Orlando Magic return home with that familiar playoff feeling

The Orlando Magic made a statement in a 3-1 road trip that has them laser-eyed on the playoffs again. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic made a statement in a 3-1 road trip that has them laser-eyed on the playoffs again. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

An impressive 3-1 road trip might have stirred that playoff feeling in the Orlando Magic yet again. The team might have finally put the pieces together.

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It is hard not to draw the parallels when history repeats itself.

The game the Orlando Magic won that made everyone truly believe they could make the playoffs was a 20-point comeback at home against the Memphis Grizzlies. It was the game where the Magic showed they did not have any quit and they had the determination and desperation to finish the job.

From that point forward, it was full-tilt ahead to the finish, ending with the Magic celebrating on the TD Garden floor in Boston their first playoff berth in seven seasons.

Orlando again found itself down 17 points to Memphis. The team again seemed to lose its life. All the inconsistency that had characterized this season, in particular, seemed to come to the forefront.

The Grizzlies again raced out to a lead. The Magic looked out matched and ready to go home. Something sparked them to come back and the Magic again realized their full potential.

It looked like the Magic would leave the game satisfied with a split on this four-game road trip. A fine result, but hardly inspiring for a team that seemed to be backing its way into a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference.

That is not who this team wants to be. At last, they responded. At last, they changed the narrative of what this team could be and responded to its potential.

Perhaps the Magic finally found that playoff will and focus. Perhaps the Magic have finally found that will never to quit and the desire to win. Perhaps this is the turning point once again.

In coming back from a 17-point deficit, they scrambled defensively and contested shots. They took charges. They sprinted to the other end of the court in transition and moved the ball to the open man. The bench rose and celebrated with every big hit.

Mistakes were made still sure. A nine-point lead shrunk to two on just two possessions. The Magic had turnovers late that could cost them. The team is far from perfect and there is plenty to work with.

But they stuck with it. They upped their physicality and became the dominant force in the game. The Magic became the team they needed to be.

Like last year against the Grizzlies, perhaps this was the moment they became a playoff team. This road trip perhaps is the road trip the Magic became a playoff team.

Tuesday everyone played their role. Even players who did not have their best game found a way to contribute.

Michael Carter-Williams pushed the pace and was a pest defensively, changing the team’s physicality defensively. He pushed the team to a new level.

Terrence Ross caught fire, moving and cutting without the ball. He continued a torrid pace that has the Magic feeling confident and comfortable. Like last year, that spreads throughout the team.

Markelle Fultz attacked the paint and found holes to get the ball to. He found room to finish around the basket too when it presented. Most importantly, he had the Magic moving quicker into their offense and playing at a faster pace.

Nikola Vucevic went from getting pushed around physically in the first half to providing a steady base offensively to keep the ball moving. Aaron Gordon struggled to shoot, but he kept making big plays with his passing (nine assists) and a lock-down performance on the glass.

As coach Steve Clifford continually says, a 17- or 19-point lead in the first half is not much of a lead. With the way offenses go, that deficit can get made up fairly quickly. Still, the Magic again came from behind with a spirited level of play.

They did so against the Brooklyn Nets a few weeks ago on the road. They did against the Miami Heat to start this road trip too.

Orlando is starting to show that same resilience and determination that carried them to the playoffs last year. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together.

For fans at least, this team was always chasing the ghost of last season.

Everyone wanted to know if the team that went 22-9 and was one of the best teams in the league for the final quarter of the season was something real and sustainable. They were always trying to live up to those expectations.

Orlando has obviously fallen short. Injuries never helped, but the Magic were not as good as they were at the end of last season.

The frustrating part of this season has been the maddening lack of consistency. The team has not been able to build its identity or string together wins. The defense is no longer a juggernaut and the offense always feels like a mirage.

Road trips help define teams and force teams to band together. This road trip the Magic just finished was the last big road trip of the season. And the Magic seemed to find themselves on it going 3-1.

Against the Heat, they struggled with their 3-point defense but rallied to give themselves a chance to win on the road. The loss was frustrating because it truly felt the Magic squandered it through their own lack of preparation and poor playmaking down the stretch.

They took that frustration out on the Minnesota Timberwolves. They needed some time and a spark off the bench to get their focus and then they locked down the Timberwolves for the rest of the game, winning that with easy.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

They saved their best for the win over the Houston Rockets. That was a game where they moved the ball well and defended at a high level, executing their game plan perfectly.

Each game seemed to affirm the Magic had found their focus once again. They had put everything together and things were finally clicking. The Magic continued their offensive tear and slowly put their defense together.

Momentum is always the next day’s pitcher. None of it matters if they do not build upon these successes if this identity and this style do not become consistent. That has always been the thing the Magic have chased this year.

And the team has weaknesses. Slow starts continue to plague the team. The bench is rescuing the team too often. And the defense is still maddeningly inconsistent, even if it has shown signs of life in the last four games, albeit not for 48 minutes even in the two blowout wins.

But ultimately the Magic are winning. They have won eight of their past 12 games to make their push into the playoff picture and solidify their place in the field of eight.

Nobody quite believed last year’s team had that feeling until everything came together and the team had that feeling of invincibility.

This team does not quite have that. But after a strong showing in this four-game road trip and a home-heavy schedule for the rest of the month, the Magic have that feeling yet again.

It really feels like Orlando has put the pieces together and is ready to make the kind of run that solidifies its playoff position. The team has that familiar feeling again.

The bench gets up with every big shot. The team makes big shots. It gets the big stops. It finds a way to win even through its own mistakes.

Next. D.J. Augustin has had a rough year but still important. dark

Better late than never, but the Magic might have found that playoff level again.