5 questions the Orlando Magic must answer in final quarter of the season

The Orlando Magic are struggling to get their swagger back as the playoff race tightens. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic are struggling to get their swagger back as the playoff race tightens. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic
Markelle Fultz recorded a team-high 14 assists to lead the Orlando Magic’s attack and check off another box in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic enter the final 20 games in playoff position and with plenty to play for. But the big picture still looms despite the task at hand.

The Orlando Magic had an abysmal showing to close the third quarter of the season in a 130-107 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. It was the second-worst defensive performance of the year for a team that prides itself on its defense.

Having a better showing on the road was a must. Especially to start a four-game trip that could set up momentum for the rest of March.

That too ended up in a loss — 116-113 to the Miami Heat. It took the Heat hitting a franchise-record 22 3-pointers. But it was a significantly better showing. and there is no shame in a road loss to one of the best teams in the league.

But this is not the time for thoughts like that. A good effort is meaningless without the win to go with it.

As coach Steve Clifford told reporters after the game, we are 60 games into the season. This is not the time for building habits or taking good lessons from losses. This is the time for winning and making that final push to the playoffs.

The final quarter of the season has started. The Magic have not had the season they hoped for or expected, scuttling well under .500 and struggling to find consistency even on defense.

Yet, the Eastern Conference has been forgiving enough to leave them fairly comfortably in eighth and in the race to finish seventh. There is a clear battle to avoid facing the historically good Milwaukee Bucks in the first round (almost certainly a series that would end in a sweep).

Orlando is still very much in the thick of the battle with meaningful games and pressure down the stretch. This is the environment the Magic want their young players to experience and grow under. This is how they feel their players get better.

Whatever the team might do this offseason gets pushed to the side. At this point, the Magic’s front office is probably well aware of the team’s weaknesses, inconsistencies and needs. They are likely already mapping out the team’s future regardless of how this season turns out in the end.

Right now, the goal is the make the most of the roster the Magic have. And that is what Clifford has always driven to do. He wants the last quarter of the season to be his team’s best quarter of the season.

After going 9-11 to start the year, 11-10 in the second quarter of the season and then a woeful 7-15 in the last quarter of the season, the team has not built consistency. They have not been able to build a solid run this season.

The fourth quarter of the season will give them that chance. At least on paper, the easiest stretch of their schedule waits for them when they get home. The team could be in a position to make another strong run to the end of the season.

But the big question is always how that will prepare them for the playoffs. And that is what every question must focus on for the final 20-or-so games.