Orlando Magic still need discipline to make it through all the injuries

The Orlando Magic are struggling to execute consistently as their lineups continue to change. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic are struggling to execute consistently as their lineups continue to change. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

103. 38. 111. 110. Final

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford was not happy following his team’s 111-103 loss. His team did not seem too thrilled either.

This was a tough game — a road game against a streaking Miami Heat team — it was never going to be easy to win. The Magic would need to be sharp. And doing it undermanned, as always, was going to make it tougher.

As Clifford has said throughout the season, the Magic are not a team that can be lax anywhere. This is a team that has to play with extreme discipline and be on point to win games. That has only gone double when so many players are out of position.

So the frustration was palpable following Thursday’s loss.

Miami took advantage of the mistakes Orlando made and won the game. Their 10-2 run was enough to put the game away and the Magic went scoreless for nearly six minutes in the middle of the quarter. But what stung the most were the turnovers and the runout opportunities the team gave up.

The Orlando Magic have struggled dealing with shifting lineups. While that is a problem to solve, it does not excuse the lack of discipline and execution that has kept the team from winning.

For a team that has long prided itself on limiting their own mistakes have had a turnover problem for a while now. And with 14 turnovers leading to 15 Heat points, each mistake proved critical and painful. There is simply no room for that kind of error.

The Magic are pointing to themselves for why they are losing these games. They are losing focus and losing discipline at key moments.

The Magic certainly are struggling still to adjust to all the injuries and the new roles players have had to take on. But they still point to things they can clean up.

"“This is a game we definitely should have won though,” Dwayne Bacon said after Thursday’s loss. “We can’t keep letting them slip away like this in the fourth quarter. It happened before the break with Atlanta and we come back after the break and it happened in Miami.”"

The loss to the Atlanta Hawks before the All-Star Break certainly stung. The team blew a 15-point lead with six minutes to play as the team lost track of shooters behind the arc. It was a frustrating and embarrassing loss.

Thursday, the Magic pointed to their turnovers, which on the surface does not look like a problem.

Orlando averages 13.1 turnovers per game, the fifth-fewest in the league. But it is the kind of turnovers that hurt this team. Orlando gives up 16.5 points off turnovers per game, 13th in the league. The team was second last year at 14.3 points off turnovers per game.

This is a huge difference for a team with such small margins.

"“We make too many mistakes,” Clifford said after Thursday’s game. “We have to play to what we need to be and that’s defense-first. In the second half, for the most part, we were better. Against Atlanta, three quarters we defended. [In the] fourth quarter, blown coverage after blown coverage. You’re not going to win. Not our team. We’re not built that way. We need to be more disciplined and everybody needs to know what they’re doing and they need to do it every single possession.”"

This simple discipline is what the Magic built their playoff appearances on the last two years. And it is a shorthand way to describe what the Magic have missed throughout this season.

But it has also still been fairly clear the team was exhausted late in games thanks to the lack of depth the team faced. They have really only a few ways they could score and the Hawks were able to slow it down enough to give themselves the chance to win the game.

The Heat were able to choke off Bacon’s drives to the basket. They surrounded Nikola Vucevic and kept him from even touching the ball late in the game. Orlando was often driving straight into the teeth of the defense. The Magic lost the ball movement that would make them successful.

But that lack of trust comes from the different rotations.

It has seemingly been something different. But it all leads back to the lack of execution in those final minutes. The Magic just do not seem to have enough to get to the end of games and play at their highest levels to the very end.

Clifford conceded that certainly the team’s injuries and jumbled rotations and lineups have played a role in this. It would be better to be able to play nine players consistently with few changes game to game.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That is not a luxury this season has afforded. And the rushed schedule has only taxed players even more. Clifford admitted he may have to find ways to get even healthy players a game of rest just to get through it.

But still, this discipline is necessary to win. Especially with all these players down. And too often it has been missing from this team.

The frustrating part of this season especially after the injuries have hit is how it is something different every game.

It will be turnovers one game, then poor defense another, then poor shooting and execution another. This inconsistency reflects both a team that knows it is capable of winning, but also the inconsistency of a team that has not had the same lineup every night.

It can be taken for granted how much players have had to adjust and how difficult it has been to play this way. Nobody wants to use it as an excuse, but it is clear that it is at least part of the root of this inconsistency.

This is not 2K where players ease in and out of the lineup without any consequence. The shifting lineups and constant change have had an effect for this team.

This is perhaps the biggest struggle the team has faced this year. And one they have yet to overcome.

"“We have enough talent to win games,” Bacon said after Thursday’s game. “You’ve got to step up. It’s the next man up. We can’t keep looking for easy ways out. We don’t have all our players, that’s why we’re losing or this or that. We have to fight with what we have. Come out and everybody play hard. For sure, we have enough talent to win games.”"

Maybe it should not have taken this long to realize. Maybe it is true the Magic do not have the talent or ability to win most nights. These problems might not be so easily solved. This may just be part of the character of this season with all the injuries.

But it is also true the team has not had the discipline to get through this.

At the team’s core, it has to be strong defensively and take care of the simple things. And far too often Thursday, the team committed simple turnovers that led to runouts. The exact mistakes that have hurt this team throughout the season.

Orlando has faced the reality of these injuries all season. There have been different lineups all season.

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If the team wants to win and get back into the playoff race, they will need the discipline to limit their own mistakes. So much is already working against them.