Orlando Magic are losing the identity they built the last two years

Gary Clark and the Orlando Magic crumbled and left their identity behind in a frustrating finish Sunday. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Gary Clark and the Orlando Magic crumbled and left their identity behind in a frustrating finish Sunday. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

Final. 107. 170. 104. 38

Where do the Orlando Magic turn this time?

This is a no-excuse team. The Magic are not going to blame injuries for their shortcomings. They have proven to themselves they are capable of getting themselves to the doorstep anyway. The team knows what it is capable of even without so many key pieces.

They have a standard they play to. One they know they can achieve. And one that should last even without key players. If they stick to their standard, they can be successful.

This team has spent the last two seasons shedding a lot of labels about itself. They made the playoffs and proved what they were capable of when they bought in defensively and paid attention to detail.

Coach Steve Clifford had proved in the last two years that he could be the kind of foundational coach that makes any team competitive in a real way. For a franchise that had been lost in the wilderness since trading away Dwight Howard that was a huge step.

They did this by building on the simple things. Clifford has his team control the things they can control. They do not turn the ball over, they play tough defense and they are in tune with the details of the gameplan. The Magic do not break from this structure.

If there was one thing Orlando could always count on, it was the fundamentals that make them competitive. Their doggedness defensively. Their penchant to reduce mistakes. their determination to play no matter what the situation of the game is.

There is a toughness that comes with being a defensive-minded team. A level-headedness that allows a team to weather any storm.

That is who this Magic team is supposed to be. That is what they built the last two years.

As the Orlando Magic near the quarter mark of their season, they are struggling to keep up the same consistency and focus that were hallmarks of their playoff runs the last two seasons.

Sunday’s fourth quarter against the Charlotte Hornets was shocking in isolation. The team lost a 12-point lead entering the quarter, giving up a 31-18 deficit and trailing 25-4 at one point in the quarter. The Hornets upped their defensive intensity and the Magic failed to respond. They failed to find relief.

Worst of all, they looked lost defensively, turned the ball over and gave up all the details that made them the Magic. They lost their identity, something that should be present regardless of their injuries.

"“The issue was us,” Evan Fournier said after Sunday’s game. “We dominated them, to be honest. The fourth quarter, we just didn’t have the same focus. We didn’t execute. Just the way we played — running back, boxing out and playing solid defense doesn’t take talent. They fought through it, give them credit. But it’s us.”"

Repeating pattern

Just like the loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday and the near-loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves — and the loss to the New York Knicks and the Milwaukee Bucks and so on — this is not about a single play. This is not about a single moment for this team.

It is about the moments where the team lets go of the rope and no longer plays with the attention to detail necessary for this short-handed team to win. If it were just missing shots, the Orlando Magic might live with it. But it is a lack of attention to detail.

The fourth quarter against the Hornets was not an isolated incident anymore. This came less than a week since the Magic posted a 10-point quarter against the Timberwolves. And less than a week since the Magic failed to reach 20 points in two quarters against the Knicks.

This came in a season where the Magic watched a close game against the Bucks turn into a blowout. A season where the team got a surprise day off in a crowded season only to lose in a blowout to the Boston Celtics. And that does not even get into a 40-point loss to the Houston Rockets.

This is not who the Magic are supposed to be. This seems like a pattern.

"“It’s frustrating,” Cole Anthony said after Sunday’s game. “That’s two games back to back where we played a great three quarters and it’s just that one quarter we fall apart and break down. It’s positive because we see what we’re capable of. We’re playing three really good quarters where we are outperforming the other team. We have that one down quarter where we have to get better.”"

Orlando is running into the same problems seemingly every game — an anemic offense that saps their energy everywhere else on the floor, defense that is loose and not tied together, a team that is uncharacteristically fouling and reaching, losing their defensive discipline, or giving up rebounds, turnovers and missed free throws at inopportune times.

The Magic watched the Hornets collect two offensive rebounds in a single possession with less than a minute to play. The team only lucked out that Bismack Biyombo missed both free throws to give the team a shot to tie the game — Orlando would on a Terrence Ross 3-pointer.

The fourth quarter was full of turnovers — four of them — that led to run-outs and secondary transition chances. Orlando did not play with the discipline and attention to detail that make Clifford’s teams so hard to beat.

Missing pieces

The Orlando Magic are missing major pieces for sure — Aaron Gordon sat out Sunday’s loss to the Hornets with back and hip soreness — but not enough to look so completely disorganized on both ends of the floor.

"“Right now with these guys out, we’re going to hit it right to score with certain lineups,” coach Steve Clifford said after Sunday’s game. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t get back to defend and rebound. Those fast-break points were just as big a part of the loss as not being able to score was.”"

Yes, the Magic rallied from a nine-point deficit, tying the game with about 10 seconds left. Fournier and Ross hit back-to-back threes in desperation in the final seconds. Orlando seemingly snapped to attention with the prospect of losing in front of it and played with the urgency the team needed.

The team has plenty of fight in it. But getting that urgency dialed up especially when things seem to be going south is where this team cannot reach.

Gary Clark said the team’s spirits are up because the team is trending in the right direction. But there is an overwhelming sense of frustration too because the team has not been able to get the wins that their play seemingly largely deserves.

Orlando knows this is a problem that is not about any defense the Hornets or anyone else is playing. This is on them and their ability to stay focused and locked into the game plan.

"“We are a solid team usually,” Evan Fournier said after Sunday’s game. “We’ve been good for two years now with all those little details — running back, transition, rebounding. For two years, we’ve been really good. With all the injuries, we have to be elite in those parts of the game. It builds momentum, you can run and get easy baskets. That’s the way that we play. That’s just us. If we don’t play our brand of basketball, we’re not going to win.”"

Ultimately, it is winning that matters as the team tries to accomplish its goals.

Evan Fournier's return already making an impact. dark. Next

The Magic are not playing like the team they know they have to be at the very least. They are not doing the thing that made them a playoff team the last two years. And, more importantly, would make them a playoff team this season even with the injuries.