Orlando Magic need Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon to lead this team

Aaron Gordon and the rest of the Orlando Magic's leaders have to set a better tone following a loss to the Golden State Warriors.(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon and the rest of the Orlando Magic's leaders have to set a better tone following a loss to the Golden State Warriors.(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic again faltered against a struggling team. They were seeking energy and turned to their leaders to provide it. But they let them down again.

Final. 95. 38. 109. 41

The Orlando Magic had fought their way back into the game against the Golden State Warriors, taking a brief one-point lead on two occasions with about five minutes to play.

This was not a good game by any stretch of the imagination for the team. They raced out to an early 13-0 lead, moving the ball and getting themselves in every position to coast to a win. But then they did that, they just coasted.

The Warriors shot their way back into the game and played with the urgency of a team trying to break a 10-game losing streak.

Orlando itself fell behind by 13 points and clawed its way back into the game. This is where their experience and their poise — the experience and poise of a playoff team — was supposed to take over.

Good teams find a way to win even on their worst day. And they certainly do not let the same mistakes seep in and cost them games down the line.

Every team is due a bad day here and there. In an 82-game season, not every game is going to be a good one. But there was no excuse for playing without energy and attention to detail. Especially a game after intensity issues gave them no chance to play against the LA Clippers just two nights before.

At the end of the game, the Magic still had their chance to salvage the victory. They turned to their most trusted players and veterans to get them across the finish line even as they struggled through the course of the game.

And this is the most disappointing thing about the game. It is the most disappointing thing about the season.

This is not something that is fairly isolated. The Orlando Magic had a lead on the road against the Denver Nuggets only to lose that lead and falling 113-104. Then roughly two weeks later, the Orlando Magic inexplicably looked lethargic in a home loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

The Magic have started a troubling trend of not having the energy to finish off games. They show plenty of fight, but not execution when things get stuck to get the job done. And, like that game against the Hawks, the team allowed them to gain confidence and get to the end of the game.

Nobody seemed to step up and finish that game. Nobody seemed able to make the plays to rescue the team.

Orlando turned toward its leaders. And their leaders are the ones often letting them down.

It is the team’s leaders in Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon who are struggling to step up to the plate and help guide the team to their goals.

The team is facing increased expectations this year. They are a playoff team and they have to start playing like it. There are still too many moments where the team does not reach that level. They are still learning to play to that standard.

For Orlando to achieve its goals — securing a playoff spot and then making some noise once they get there — it needs more from these three players specifically. It needs more from their leaders.

And it starts with those three specifically leading the way with their energy and intensity throughout the game. That was what was missing throughout Saturday’s game and especially at the end when the team’s execution faltered.

The end of the game was about making shots of course. Results matter for this team in the midst of a playoff chase. But so too is making the right plays and keeping the offense flowing. So too is the leadership to get back on defense and commit harder on defense with the game on the line.

The one thing this Magic team cannot allow is to get outworked. By coach Steve Clifford’s own admission, this is not the kind of team that can just show up and beat anybody. They have to play well to win games.

Yet, the Magic continually missed open shots — Nikola Vucevic went 0 for 2 in the final five minutes — got beat in transition and struggled to contain the ball. In one late-game possession, Willie Cauley-Stein beat Nikola Vucevic down the floor a two-handed jam and a six-point lead.

That was followed by a pair of Terrence Ross 3-pointers. And the Warriors’ lead only increased from there. D’Angelo Russell put the finishing touches with 10 points in that run — a pair of free throws and a pair of 3-pointers.

All the while, the Magic’s body language sank. Shots were not falling but the team’s defense waned with it. They allowed their frustration to take over.

This was only the highlight of the end of the game, however. The Magic’s leading trio struggled throughout the entire game. Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier shot a combined 14 for 40 and 6 for 15 from beyond the arc. They had some of their own moments throughout the game but nothing that really uplifted the team.

At the end of the day, a team is only as good as its best players. And certainly Saturday night, the Magic’s three best players did not perform at the level they needed them to. And perhaps for much of this season, that trio has not stepped up to the plate.

Not in the way the team ultimately needs it to.

Orlando can clearly diagnose the problem. The Magic say the right things after games. They bounce back from these crushing defeats and steady the ship.

But the issue is preventing this from happening in the first place. The team is still seemingly getting that lesson down.

Perhaps this gets to the Magic’s deeper problems. Orlando does not have a clear go-to player. The team does not have a guy who can take over games. It was a problem in the loss to the Phoenix Suns and even in the win against the Sacramento Kings.

Orlando climbed back into the game behind Markelle Fultz’s brilliant play. Perhaps it was a miscalculation for Clifford to turn back toward Vucevic and Fournier to finish the game. Perhaps that is a lesson to log for the offseason or as the team maps out its future.

Maybe these struggles are a preview to the big changes that seem inevitable to make this team more than a first-round team.

But that is not the team’s reality this year. To make the most of this year’s team, the Magic need their leaders to step up and make plays. They need them to take over games and be the catalyst for the team’s energy.

Too often this is not the case. The Magic are turning to their leaders in critical moments and they are not sure what they will get.

Next. Grades: Golden State Warriors 109, Orlando Magic 95. dark

For the rest of this season, the responsibility is on them to step up to the plate.