Orlando Magic’s character will be tested and cemented this season

Evan Fournier had a determined effort to respond to a loss Thursday as the Orlando Magic defeated the Brooklyn Nets. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Evan Fournier had a determined effort to respond to a loss Thursday as the Orlando Magic defeated the Brooklyn Nets. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

113. 147. 121. 38. Final

Evan Fournier was visibly upset with himself after the Orlando Magic’s loss to the New York Knicks on Thursday.

The game was not decided on the game’s final play and the Magic are not even in a position to win the game without Fournier finding his rhythm in the fourth quarter. But that last play stuck out. To him, it was a silly mistake that a veteran guard should not make.

Fournier took the full blame for the turnover that sealed the loss, the Magic’s ninth straight loss.

But there is always another game. The NBA ensures that. And the Orlando Magic had to prepare itself for a back-to-back at home against a scorching Brooklyn Nets team.

It had schedule loss written all over it. With the team deep into a losing streak, it seemed like this would be a game to write off and plan for the next one.

That’s not how this team operates. The wins may be few right now for the Magic, but they are still fighting and scratching and clawing. After a month of disappointment, the team got its win over a marquee opponent, defeating the Nets 121-113.

The Orlando Magic have struggled for consistency through injuries this year. But their character and spirit to compete remain intact as they continue toward the trade deadline and the rest of a lost season.

They played a game that showed who they really are and who they want to be.

"“We showed a lot of character tonight after a very tough loss,” Evan Fournier said after Friday’s win over the Nets. “The fact that we fought really hard against probably the best team in the East and got a W says something about us.“I don’t think we need a game to tell us what we’re capable of. We’ve been in the playoffs for two years now, we have been by far the team that has the most injuries. To be honest, I don’t think we need to watch any games. We’ve been in the playoffs the last two years, we know who we are.”"

Fournier said he wanted to redeem himself from Thursday’s loss. The whole team seemingly wanted to do that. They knew this would be a difficult task to bounce back like this. This game was no gimmie.

Building their fight

For a team that has prided itself on the small victory of making the playoffs the last two years, these are the kinds of games they have found how to win.

The Orlando Magic may never have been the most talented team. But they usually the ones with the most fight. They could commit to some basic things they could rely on — most specifically their defense and energy — and that would give them a chance.

But for much of the season, the Magic have lost contact a bit with who they are as a team and what made them successful.

The team’s defense has been inconsistent. They have fallen out of the top 10 in defensive rating and into the bottom half of the league. Without a ton of strong offensive options, even when healthy, that is a sure death sentence for the team.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

They have also made a lot of self-inflicted mistakes, especially during this losing streak. Specifically, the Magic rank 11th in turnover rate this season (11.6-percent) but ranked 18th in the last 10 games at 13.9-percent. That is a huge jump and made it harder for the team to compete even on good offensive nights.

The lack of consistency and commitment on that end is as much a reason for the team’s sudden drop. The Magic have struggled to keep that base.

But at its core, the Magic were a team that was willing to compete. They may not have a perfect squad or a team that is devoid of holes, but they are always a tough out.

Back to their reality

That is where the Orlando Magic want to get back to. That is their identity and that is their character.

The rest of this season — regardless of the trade deadline Thursday or where the Magic ultimately finish in the standings — is about reclaiming this identity and this spirit. The Magic have to become a difficult team to play with the right attitude and spirit.

The injuries had a lot to do with this slip.

Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, now back from injuries that kept them out or put them in and out of the lineup, were not part of much of that losing streak. They really could not say what all the losing was like or the frustration involved in the past month. They simply have not been in the lineup.

Finding a way to win a game was certainly a relief. And the team has looked a lot better with Gordon and Fournier back in the lineup. The Magic are quietly hoping they can finally get through all these injuries.

"“It feels good,” Aaron Gordon said after Friday’s win. “We still have some missing pieces with T-Ross and James Ennis out. Those are two guys who are savvy and can score the ball. Once we get them back, we’re going to be that much more cohesive and we’ll be able to lean on a lot more people.”"

The bones of this team are a group that has a chip on its shoulder and a desire to prove the league wrong about what they can accomplish. Their 2019 playoff run defied all expectations and doing it again seemed to do so as well.

Pushing toward expectations

The expectations this year were also fairly small. A lot of pundits had the Orlando Magic missing the play-in tournament tis year. Their 6-2 start was a surprising burst. They were the last remaining undefeated team.

The sense around Orlando is that if not for the injuries, the Magic would have been the surprise team in the league.

All that has been long gone though. The team has had to go back and reach for its character and what made this group experience its moderate success.

With players coming back now, the Magic have one last stand — a total of three games remain before the trade deadline and the die may already be cast.

If this was the last big win for this team, then the team showed the character that finally made them experience success these last two seasons. They showed why there was a reason to believe in them.

But of course, the true judge of character is to take success and do it again. After going so long without that winning feeling, that will be the question the Magic face next.

"“It was a happy locker room,” coach Steve Clifford said after Friday’s win. “Now the question is do we exhale after a really good win or do we go to Boston and try to build on it. It starts with having the right attitude but you have to play well.”"

Clifford has praised his team’s attitude and spirit throughout the season. The issue has never been the team’s effort or desire to win. The magic have just had such a narrow path to walk this season, it can be easy to stray.

How they continue to bounce back from the frustration of this seasoon and begin building toward the end of the year will be the true test of what the team has built the last two seasons.

This group has not given up on the season. Whether they have much longer together is still to be determined. But their character will not allow them to give in. They are still feeling every loss and every frustration.

Next. Orlando Magic exuding confidence they can finish strong. dark

And that may be a sign the Magic are still in a good place despite it all. And on some nights, it feels good to reap the rewards with a huge win.