Orlando Magic arrive home exactly who they are — a .500 team

The Orlando Magic completed their season-long road trip with successes and failures and more understanding of what they can do. (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic completed their season-long road trip with successes and failures and more understanding of what they can do. (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic completed a six-game road trip that revealed a lot of who they are and what they can still accomplish, a need to accomplish, this season.

106. 38. 83. 170. Final

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford was livid following Saturday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. He knew this was not who his team was. They were not a team playing a lethargic style that forsook their defensive identity.

More importantly, they were always a team that fought. And the fight had left the team as they neared the end of a season-long six-game, 12-day road trip. The Magic could not match the thrill of that landmark win over the Los Angeles Lakers. The team that seemingly could beat anybody could also lose to anybody if they were not careful.

More frustratingly, he knew the difficult schedule that was coming up. The Magic had a lot to manage and would need their full attention. There will be fatigue and how the Magic handled the fatigue from the end of this road trip would say a ton.

Then, after a cross-country trip to Charlotte to close the road trip and everything railing against them, Orlando found its energy. After a rough first quarter, the Magic dominated the rest of the game. They dug deep defensively and used it to generate some offensive energy.

In a 106-83 win over the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center on Monday, the Orlando Magic showed incredible guts to end their road trip. They locked in defensively, holding the most potent scoring backcourt duo in the league to 19 points on 5-for-23 shooting.

Clifford went from lamenting his team’s lack of focus to praising its guts and determination all within three days. That is how quickly things change in the league. That is how quickly perceptions can change about a team.

But it is getting to a point where the Magic must make some difficult decisions about the team. The team has to understand what it is and a way to move forward.

There has to be a bit of finality as the Magic commit to this group for the rest of the season and begin planning for beyond.

Road trips have a way of revealing the character of a team. It has a way of bringing the team together but also revealing its flaws and its determination to get through the gauntlet of the NBA marathon.

This road trip was particularly tough. It challenged the Magic in a lot of ways, revealing their flaws and much as their strengths.

They saw the team struggle to finish in games against the Phoenix Suns (a frustrating loss) and Sacramento Kings (a relief of a win). They saw the team take the fight to one of the best teams in the league in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Then there was the disappointment of a team searching for energy in losses to the LA Clippers and Golden State Warriors.

It ended with a gutsy effort and finish to blow out the Hornets.

In the end, it was a 3-3 road trip that showed the Magic’s strengths and inconsistencies. And, yes, perhaps the team’s fatal flaw that is preventing it from doing more.

Orlando is firmly ensconced in the 7-seed of the Eastern Conference, now seven games behind the Indiana Pacers for sixth, two games up on the Brooklyn Nets for seventh and five games clear of the Detroit Pistons for eighth.

It does not appear that is going to change. The race for seventh appears to be the only thing that is up for grabs for this team. That is worth fighting for, but still a small-scale goal.

Of course, the Magic ultimately want more. And the trade deadline is a little more than two weeks looms large, as does the contract status for Evan Fournier.

A 3-3 record was probably all Orlando could hope for from this long road trip. But it also reveals exactly what this team is.

This is a .500 team. Capable of beating and losing to anyone. Full of inconsistency and potential. The team saw all those flaws on display throughout the road trip. It is nothing new or nothing the team perhaps did not expect.

And that might also be at the heart of the problem for the team. The Magic were always pushing to be more. they hoped some internal growth and playoff experience would help them realize more of their potential this year.

While Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz have looked like breakout players, the rest of the team has regressed in some ways. Injuries have not helped — especially to Jonathan Isaac. But Nikola Vucevic has struggled to regain his All-Star form consistently. Terrence Ross has gone through long shooting slumps. And Aaron Gordon has not taken an expected leap in his game.

All of that still shows up in flashes. Nikola Vucevic has his moments where he looks like an All-Star. Terrence Ross’ 3-point shooting was vital to the team pulling out the win against the Hornets, making five of eight Monday. And Aaron Gordon is starting to find his center offensively, contributing even if he is not scoring — his seven assists Monday continued a welcomed trend of Gordon’s playmaking.

The Magic still feel like an objectively better team than last year. They have approached this season very differently than last year armed with the knowledge of their playoff run.

But the results still appear to be stuck in the same place. And that is a fact that will necessitate a lot of examination (not panic to do something or anything because the season can still be a success even with that realization). There was always going to be that deliberation at the end of this season.

The road trip helped reveal a lot of who this Magic team is. Past the midway point, Orlando has shown a lot of these same character traits — the fight to compete, but the struggle to score consistently — that the road trip only revealed in sharper contrast.

Orlando has had plenty of ups and downs throughout the season already. Plenty of moments where the team could have doubted itself and turned back.

But the one defining trait for this team is how it has responded to this adversity time and time again. The Magic have fought back against injuries and have found a way to bounce back from some crushing defeat. It has the team in position to make the playoffs once again.

The road trip showed the Magic are still developing and growing and finding their consistency. It showed they are a .500 team with a lot to build upon and a lot to understand still.

Next. Grades: Orlando Magic 106, Charlotte Hornets 83. dark

Whether that is enough for this team will be a bigger question for management to answer in the coming weeks.