Orlando Magic have to make the most of themselves to finish season

Nikola Vucevic expressed frustration during the Orlando Magic's loss to the New York Knicks. He knows the rest of the season is in his team's own control. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic expressed frustration during the Orlando Magic's loss to the New York Knicks. He knows the rest of the season is in his team's own control. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Big questions about the Orlando Magic’s future loom for the offseason. The rest of this season now is about getting the most of the group they have.

Final. 103. 38. 105. 27

The frustration for the Orlando Magic was apparent throughout the game against the New York Knicks on Thursday.

Nikola Vucevic showed more anger and frustration than he has probably ever shown on a basketball court. Toward the end of the first half, he fouled RJ Barrett trying to stay vertical. Barrett made the basket and Nikola Vucevic turned and slapped the basket stanchion for an automatic technical foul.

This is a rare break for the usually composed big man. He was able to turn that fire into something productive in the second half. Vucevic helped key the Magic’s comeback to take the lead and eventually go up by 10 points in the fourth quarter.

That team that made the playoffs and dreamed of doing a whole lot more is still in there. . . somewhere.

Thursday night was the Magic at their worst. They dug themselves a hole through their own mistakes — a night after committing 17 turnovers uncharacteristically they had 21 including four in the final four minutes — and they could not rescue themselves in a 105-103 loss to the Knicks.

The end of the game was especially frustrating. Orlando, down seven, rallied back to give itself a chance to tie the game. What ensued was a confusing sequence of missed communication and poor decisions.

The Magic opted not to call a timeout before coach Steve Clifford then changed his mind. The ball found its way to Evan Fournier who had nowhere to go before he tripped and turned it over one last time.

If this season needed a visual for the team, it was this. A team capable of putting itself in a position to win but often tripping over itself to get there and ultimately falling short.

The Magic are currently at their lowest point of the season. They have lost nine of 11 games and have fallen two games back fo the Brooklyn Nets for seventh. They hold a seemingly slim 3.5-game lead over the Chicago Bulls for the final playoff spot.

And there are no further reinforcements coming. The trade deadline has come and passed. The team as it sits today is the team that will take the team to the playoffs.

Fans and others might be ready to make conclusions about this roster. But those are not the questions to ask anymore.

Maybe the team has reached those conclusions. Even when healthy with how the team has played all year, it is hard to envision the team leaping beyond the 7-seed in the Eastern Conference.

Everyone expects changes to the roster in the offseason.

But that cannot happen now. The deadline is done. This is the Orlando Magic for the rest of the season. And the goal for the rest of the season is to make the most of the roster they have. And that is solely in their own power to do.

So far this season, the Magic have not done that.

Injuries have played a role. The team has not played with its full complement much this season. Right now, the team is down to players who would be in the team’s power forward rotation, resulting in some odd rotation decisions.

But beyond that, the team has seen significant regressions from key players — All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, super-sub Terrence Ross and All-Star hopeful Aaron Gordon.

Then there has been the defense, which has gone through bouts of inconsistency. Even though it still ranks in the top-10, it is nowhere near as good as it was last year during the team’s run. And it has not helped the Magic’s offense has never been on point throughout the season.

The team has never quite been on the same page. Its flaws are evident. And apparently so is the team’s ceiling.

The choices that have to be made will come in June, July and August. The Magic have some big ones.

The focus now is on trying to fix the issues that have plagued this team and moving and pushing forward. The focus now is on getting the most of this team.

Orlando is not in a position where it can tank and just throw the young players out there without restriction. Perhaps the team should shift more offensive focus to players like Markelle Fultz and Aaron Gordon and increase Mohamed Bamba’s minutes.

But winning is still the team’s primary objective. It always has been.

There is still something to value and the team gets value — both developmentally and financially — from pushing for the playoffs. there is no amount of “productive” losing that would enable the Magic to secure a top pick at this point of the season.

Orlando organizationally has determined that its young players develop best by playing in roles that contribute to winning and going through the process of fighting for the playoffs and playing in pressure situations. That was an approach that worked for Jeff Weltman with the Toronto Raptors (think of how players like Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell grew).

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

No team should send the message to their players they have given up on a season when the chance for the playoffs is in reach. Orlando is still a playoff team — for whatever that is worth in a weak Eastern Conference.

With the trade deadline gone, the Magic have to find a way to squeeze out the most from this roster. They still have their time to right the ship and get to the end of the season. They still have time to get at least the illusion of a chance in the playoffs — giving Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba their first real exposure to playoff pressure and preparation.

The biggest issue for the Magic has been a lack of attention to detail and urgency. The team has not played with the same frantic pace and determination as it did last year. Orlando has largely understood it was a playoff team and playing from ahead this way has dulled some of its edge.

The Magic have to find that edge again. That is the only way to make the most of this season. That is the only way to find that small measure of success.

It is solely on them to find that success.

There is success to find. The playoffs were always the baseline goal for this team. Failing to make the playoffs at this point would have to be considered an absolute failure.

There is still something to fight for. The Magic have to find that fight and accomplish this goal to make something of the rest of this season.

Next. Grades: New York Knicks 105, Orlando Magic 103. dark

The big questions loom in the offseason. The rest of this season is completely in this team’s control. And that might be the most frustrating thing about the season so far.