Orlando Magic spend first quarter restarting and progressing slowly

The Orlando Magic have had to restart and watch careful progress to win in the first quarter. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic have had to restart and watch careful progress to win in the first quarter. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Cole Anthony has been emblematic of the Orlando Magic since the Markelle Fultz injury changed everything.

Orlando hoped at first to bring him off the bench in smaller roles to get him comfortable with the game. The Magic were leaning on familiarity throughout the roster. And without a full offseason or training camp, they felt Anthony would need time.

The injury pushed him into the starting lineup and he still needed to get his footing and find his place in the league. He struggled to find his rhythm and his place. He was learning by getting thrown into the deep end.

It took him a while to figure out how to swim. And like his team, it felt like they were floundering.

Slowly but surely the game has slowed down for him. He hit the game-winning shot last week against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But he has strung together several strong games in a row, capped off with a career-high 21 points in Monday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Anthony is averaging 12.6 points per game and shooting 66.7-percent from beyond the arc. The Magic are still largely keeping his role simple, but he has found his niche and comfort.

It is a bright sign for a team seeking improvement and trying to find its level.

"“He just gets better,” Dwayne Bacon said after Monday’s win over the Hornets. “We knew coming in Cole was a shotmaker. That has probably been him his whole career. You can just see he is getting comfortable. Of course, he’s a rookie he’s going to make a lot of mistakes. We’re going to live with them because we just believe in him. Everybody on the team believes in him. He believes in himself. He comes out and plays like it is a regular game. He doesn’t shy from the big moment or the big-time player.”"

That has been the feeling about the Magic throughout the season. They felt sure of themselves at the beginning, only to have to get knocked down to zero. And they have had to slowly build themselves back up again.

The Orlando Magic completed their first quarter of the season still seeking their identity following the injury to Markelle Fultz and still with the chance to make a playoff push.

The team’s progress has tracked their rookie’s progress, it seems. And he has gotten better, providing some hope for the rest of the season.

This is still the goal for the Magic. The thing they built playoff runs in each of the last two seasons as they struggled out of the gate. They want to get better as the season progresses and playing their best as the playoff race heats up.

There is still a lot of basketball to play. And this growth and development have been slow but steady.

Two seasons

The start of the season was hard to decipher.

The Orlando Magic started hot out of the gates at 4-0 and then 6-2 before the team lost its heartbeat and one of its most promising players. The whole world came toppling down when Fultz tore his ACL and the Magic’s season reset.

It is almost as if the Magic had a season before Fultz — one full of promise and hope for a team trying to scratch its way up the Eastern Conference ladder — and another without — one where the team struggled to find its offensive flow, stay healthy with other injuries on the roster and rediscover its way to play.

The 10 games since Fultz’s injury have at times felt hopeless.

The Magic have gone just 2-8 in those games and have fallen back to the pack of the Eastern Conference. Worse still, the team has taken on some bad losses — both the blowouts right after the initial shock and now the close losses of a team still seeking its identity and way to play.

It has been hard to see progress. the losses keep piling up and the team’s statistical profile at the quarter mark of the season is not exactly encouraging.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic’s offense has settled at No. 27 in the league (105.3 points per 100 possessions) and the defense has lagged behind too at No. 19 in the league (110.1 points per 100 possessions). The team’s -4.8 net rating is 27th in the league.

Essentially the Magic are playing like one of the fourth-worst teams in the league.


It would be easy to dismiss some of this as early-season noise. But now the Orlando Magic are one-quarter of the way through the season. Things are starting to settle and the team is becoming who it is.

There have been long stretches throughout the season where the Magic have struggled to do very basic things essential to their success.

A lot of this has been simply from a team trying to reconfigure roles all on the fly. The team has had to try to have a second training camp while still dealing with the emotions of losing a teammate to a devastating injury and the restrictions of a season played during a pandemic.

"“I have to find a way to help us get our habits better,” coach Steve Clifford said after Monday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets. “We’ve always been better when we can practice. We have always gotten better and better throughout the year. We just can’t do things the way we always have before. We’re playing so many games, you really can’t practice much. I have to find ways to get back to playing.”"

Still, the Magic have persisted. They have tried to find their way through a season that has limited their practice time and their ability to get on the floor and get better outside of games.

Signs they can peak above the clouds and find their footing are shown probably in the player least prepared for all of this, yet so vital to the Magic succeeding any form or fashion.

Still in contention

The Orlando Magic end the first quarter of the season officially in ninth in the Eastern Conference, tied with the New York Knicks for eighth and a mere game behind the Atlanta Hawks for sixth in the East.

The standings have not quite settled in. But the team can say it is ending the first quarter of the season in the race at 8-10.

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Like the 2019 season and 2020 season, the Magic had a rough start that did not wholly eliminate them from the race. In 2019, the Magic were 9-9. And in 2020, the Magic started the season 7-11.

Orlando may not have gotten the cushion it wanted — especially considering the relative ease of their schedule so far — but it did not eliminate itself either. The second quarter of the season features just six road games and only one extended road trip.

In other words, the Magic are still in a stronger position to make a playoff push. They just have to find their level and start playing their game.

That is the exciting part of the team’s improvement. Anthony has started to get himself going and find his place in the league and how to get his shots. Other players are starting to fill into their roles too.

But it is also clear that this position is precarious. The team has not done anything consistently enough to bank on. The Magic are still seeking their identity at this point in the season.

That part is alarming. Especially with so little practice time to lock things in. And the Orlando Magic still have beaten only one team with a better record than them in the standings — the two wins at home over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Nothing is real and everything is real at this point.

So the Magic are simply trying to get better. And they hope they can continue to build enough to win in the process.

Next. Orlando Magic finally hitting offensive stride. dark

At the quarter mark of the season, the team is still booting up after their sudden restart.