Orlando Magic know what they are and still demand more

The Orlando Magic are clear about what their goals are this season. They want to see the team continue to grow and learn lessons from their losses. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic are clear about what their goals are this season. They want to see the team continue to grow and learn lessons from their losses. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Final. 124. 89. 87. 38

Mohamed Bamba had just had a career-best 21 points. He made five 3-pointers and started displaying the confidence that only comes from consistent playing time. He moved into open space and became a presence.

With playing time now, Bamba is starting to get comfortable and starting to grow. The promise that came from his size as the sixth overall pick is starting to blossom with an All-Star center no longer on the roster ahead of him and some of the pressure to win immediately off the team.

The Orlando Magic are not hiding their intentions for this season and what the rest of the season is about. They know wins will be few and far between and that there will be nights like Sunday’s 124-87 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks. They will have to find something more.

Bamba had a career-best scoring night. He is on the best scoring run of his short career. But he knows that is not enough. He knows that more is expected of him and that more is needed of him.

After a loss of this magnitude, there is no resting on his laurels or perceived progress. There is only more work to do.

"“I don’t have anything nice to say about myself,” Bamba said after Sunday’s game. “I need to do a better job being there for my teammates defensively.”"

Rightly or wrongly, Bamba said he put a lot of the team’s defensive failing on himself. He is the back-line of defense. His defense has always what has kept Bamba off the floor. He knows he still has to move better and react quicker to get stops. He knows that is the path for him to make a bigger impact for his team.

Scoring is not enough for him. He knows there has to be more.

The Orlando Magic recognize their team is not built to win every night and there will be tough nights. But the goal remains to find learning experiences for their young roster and build upon each setback.

The Magic’s game Sunday did not afford many chances for lessons or growth. The team did not do much of anything correctly. And there are going to be nights where the team cannot shoot. That will make things harder.

But the team still has to take each game as a growing opportunity and a chance to get better. That is what matters. Seeing the team progress and get better in each new situation is the goal.

Sunday was a setback then. But if there was a positive it was the team recognizing how much it still has to grow in this situation they find themselves in.

"“We’re going to have some nights like this,” Clifford said after Sunday’s game. “It’s where we’re at. It was a bad performance. I’m in charge of the team. We’ve got to do better. . . . We’ve got to rebound better. That group defensively was horrendous. I’m in charge of how we play.“It’s going to be part of this. It can’t be every night. When you play like tonight, nobody got better. That’s the point of it. You don’t just throw guys out there if you have the right approach and we don’t have ways so there is a purpose of play. We’re not going to learn. We can’t have that.”"

For the first time all season, Clifford admitted in his short press remarks this team is extremely limited. Winning is going to take a whole bunch of things going right each night. Right now very few things besides a consistently hard effort have gone right for the team.

Clifford tried to draw a distinction between his frustration.

In the Orlando Magic’s loss to the Denver Nuggets last week, he said his disappointment and frustration were born out of the team’s inability to execute late in games. Their loss, in his estimation, came because the team was unable to take things they learned in the huddle and execute them in real-time.

For a young team, learning how to do this in the NBA is an essential skill toward eventually winning. This was a point where the team could learn a valuable lesson and grow.

The frustration of losing a close game is fine because it leads to eventual growth and getting to the team’s ultimate goal. That is a situation the team will see a million times and become normal. Clifford wants to see the team grow in that way and ultimately lead closer to the team winning in the end.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But this was not that kind of game. The Magic were never in it from the start. The team has little to learn or glean from the game. Yes, the Bucks played well. But the team’s poor overall effort and execution made the game lose its meaning.

With the Magic understanding how difficult it will be to win, finding these learning experiences are what is most important.

Clifford has largely balanced his minutes out. Only one player is averaging more than 30 minutes per game since the NBA Trade Deadline — Chuma Okeke, who missed Sunday’s game with a hip injury.

The Magic’s young players are getting plenty of opportunities. But they still need the time to learn and get right. This is the Magic’s main project for the final quarter of the season.

So maybe there was something the team learned in all of this.

They learned that individual stats are not enough. This has been another point Clifford has tried to drive home. Individual growth with improved stats and skills is part of the team getting better. But so is everyone getting better within the construct of the team.

Clifford has consistently said his job is to make sure the group comes together to give them the best chance to win. Even with the odds stacked against them.

Bamba coming off a career-best scoring game where he was clearly playing injured after falling hard on his hip in Friday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers and being disappointed with his overall effort is a significant step for a young player.

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When players realize their scoring is not the only thing that will keep them on the court or help the team win, it is a huge revelation for them. To hear Bamba diagnose his own weaknesses, accept leadership responsibility and demand more from himself is a sign of the team’s growth.

"“There are so many more things that I need to be doing out there starting with talk, getting guys in the right place,” Bamba said after Sunday’s game. “We have a lot of young guys. I have been in the league for three years now, I need to be someone they can lean on for guidance and how to defend an NBA offense. I put that on me. It ends with rebounds. I need to go out there and I need to make plays and finish possessions. I need to do a better job fighting for loose balls and going out there and being physical.”"

Bamba’s rebounding has been a point of contention. He is a skilled offensive rebounder thanks to his length and positioning. But he still struggles to lock down the defensive glass. It has been a team-wide struggle since the trade deadline.

So too has the defense. Bamba has shown plenty of potential defensively. he still makes some incredible plays and blocks. His length could be a problem. But he has struggled to react quickly and be in the right spots consistently.

Bamba recognizing this and demanding he do more from himself is an important step for him and for the franchise.

Of course, identifying a problem and doing something about it are two separate things. For the Magic, they have to turn this into action and see actual improvement on the court.

Next. Magic making sure to balance youth with vets. dark

It may not come in the form of many wins. The Magic seem ready to admit that. But the team still has plenty it can learn from.