Orlando Magic not accepting losing fate, showing their fight under incredible circumstances

The Orlando Magic continue to fight even as injuries mount and they face impossible circumstances. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic continue to fight even as injuries mount and they face impossible circumstances. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

105. 38. 111. 41. Final

The Orlando Magic knew they were facing a tall task playing the Golden State Warriors with just nine healthy bodies. Coach Steve Clifford was already openly bracing for the challenges his team was going to face and promising that everyone on the roster would get some time as he pieced things together.

For sure, the odds were long even going up against a Golden State Warriors team with some serious flaws but one Stephen Curry to cover a lot of them up. And especially with the way Curry was playing lately, this felt like a very tall mountain for the team to climb.

Taller still after Curry hit four of his 10 3-pointers in the first quarter and the Warriors staked a double-digit lead.

Taller even still after Frank Mason left the game with a strained right groin five minutes into the contest. This looked like the kind of game where the Magic would just succumb to unfortunate circumstances and look to reset Friday (or whenever they got healthy again).

After all, they were playing with just eight players by the end of the game and no natural point guard. These are incredible circumstances and the team is asking the impossible.

Facing the extreme difficulty of playing with just eight players and without a true point guard, the Orlando magic continued to show their character and their willingness to fight against an impossible situation.

There may be no avoiding what fate is coming to this team even after they get some healthy bodies back.

But Orlando is not going to accept that. This team showed a willingness to fight and play that confirms so much of what they accomplished in the last two years. Even if they simply do not have the talent available right now to do a whole lot more.

"“Very proud of everybody for staying with it no matter what,” James Ennis said after Thursday’s 111-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors. “No point guard. Shit, we just continued to fight. We gave it all we can. That’s all we ask from everybody to give their all. That’s what we did tonight.”"

No one, not even the gruff Clifford is blaming the team for their struggles at this point. They just chalk it up to injuries.

The team poured a lot of energy and a lot of intensity to try to pull this one out of the hat. Facing a playoff-capable team on the road with a short-handed roster without a true point guard to organize the team, their effort was the first thing the team needed to have.

Even through this frustrating losing stretch that is the one thing Clifford is certain the team has given that. Even if it has not been enough to win games yet.

That is at least a start as players get healthier soon. He does not sense a fracturing in this team.

"“In terms of effort, I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Clifford said after Thursday’s game. “I’m not like that. Our guys competed hard the whole game. We had a chance. To me in a situation like this and tomorrow night will be the same thing, on the road against a good team, down numbers, you want to give yourself a chance to win and we did that.”"

A frenzied effort

Despite trailing by 10 points after the first quarter, the Orlando Magic certainly played like it. They rallied with 36 points in the second quarter. They got after the Warriors defensively and challenged shots and picked up steals and deflections. They moved the ball to get open 3-pointers, using the extra attention the defense put on Nikola Vucevic to free up players.

And they just made plays. Over and over again.

Plays like Chuma Okeke scratching out two offensive rebounds, including one that fell to him while he was seated on the ground and sliding back to the 3-point line. Somehow Dwayne Bacon reset the play and banked in a 3-pointer.

The Magic had a lot of moments like that throughout the game where their effort won the play. But it had a cost.

Steve Clifford said by the end of the game, players were cramping up from the lack of subs to spell anyone. It was easy to see fatigue setting in with how Nikola Vuvevic and Terrence Ross were short-arming shots. There just was not much in the tank at the end.

That was evident from the deep breaths Okeke took before beginning his postgame media availability. Even an hour after the game, the team was feeling the effects of getting stretched so thin.

The Warriors made sure to press this advantage during a decisive 16-0 run in the fourth quarter that erased an early hopeful five-point Magic lead. They started pressuring the ball handler full court. Considering it was often Bacon or Okeke bringing the ball up, this pressure was more than enough to knock the Magic out of their offensive flow.

This just became too much to overcome.

"“I feel like we get better every game,” Okeke said after Thursday’s game. “I feel like we are playing harder and harder every game. If we just keep playing hard like we do and these last few games, we were in there almost for the win. Eventually, we are going to get a win and keep it rolling. We’ve just got to keep playing as we’re playing and everything will fall in place.”"

Sinking in the standings

The team is undoubtedly in a bad spot right now. The Orlando Magic have lost 15 of their past 18 games since Markelle Fultz’s injury. At times, the Magic have looked disorganized and overwhelmed by all the losses they have faced. There have been some moments of extreme frustration as players have had to carry too much of a burden.

But the team has always felt they needed just one good week to turn things around. They were still grinding and trying to get things right even as everything collapsed around them.

The season is not over.

And the team through all this adversity is certainly playing that way. The team has not given up on the season by any stretch of the imagination. And their effort certainly suggests that even if finding consistency with this lineup will be difficult.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Even though this was a loss, Thursday’s game in San Francisco might be one of the best performances the Magic have had.

The Magic showed even this undermanned how much they can compete. They showed how they can still capture the spark that propelled them to the playoffs and scrap and fight and claw their way into the lead. They showed their composure and poise to hold the Warriors off time and time again.

The Magic feel their record is not a reflection of who the team is or who it can be. It is about circumstances and organization more than anything else. No one has given up the ship.

"“This hasn’t been attitude-driven,” Steve Clifford said after Thursday’s game. “I don’t make excuses but our biggest problem has been the injuries. I wouldn’t say we have been in this big rut. We’ve been undermanned.“It hasn’t been just Markelle being out. It’s been they’ve all been out. Tonight we played with one starter. That’s been the biggest problem. We’ve gotten better in some things. We have to get better. We’re undermanned and it’s going to be like that the majority of the year. We’re going to have to find ways to get better and win.”"

It would be impossible for any team to compete regularly at a high level with four starting players out of the lineup.

The Magic know they just have to eke out some wins and hold the boat steady to stay in the playoff race while waiting for players to come back — both Evan Fournier and Michael Carter-Williams were recently upgraded to questionable in their returns and Steve Clifford said before Thursday’s game there is a chance Carter-Williams might play Friday.

But the Magic showed too how uneasy it all is. How quickly it can fall apart and how small their margin for error is.

Wins are ultimate the measure of how good a team is. And the Magic, despite their organization and health issues, have struggled to find any sort of consistency.

"“I just want to win,” Ennis said after Thursday’s game. “That’s all I want to do. Whatever it takes to do, I’m going to lay it all out there and give it my all for 48 minutes.”"

The kind of energy and effort it took to compete in these games will help the team right the ship when they have a regular rotation to play with and a few more healthy bodies. This is just about survival.

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And in the NBA anything can still happen. And the Magic are not accepting their fate.