Orlando Magic cannot learn anything or grow with poor losses like this

Mohamed Bamba and the Orlando Magic put up numbers late in the game. But it was a poor effort from the start. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Mohamed Bamba and the Orlando Magic put up numbers late in the game. But it was a poor effort from the start. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

69. 100. 38. Final. 135

Steve Clifford entered the postgame media conference and immediately told reporters he was not taking questions. This was going to be one of his quick and clear statements about this game and this team. The no-question press conferences he reserves for especially disappointing performances.

There may have been none more disappointing this season than a 135-100 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. At least none so disappointing since the team embarked on this new journey after the trade deadline sell-off.

No one in that locker room or front office is surprised by the team’s losing. They have severe talent deficits and an infinitesimally small margin for error. But there is still a baseline of what the team wants to try to accomplish with each game and each opportunity on the floor.

The Orlando Magic are trying to learn and grow with each game the rest of the season. That becomes impossible to accomplish when the team fails at basic things and gets blown out embarrassingly.

This team wants the rest of this season to be the beginning of something special. To this point, it is hard to say that it is with the inconsistency and repeated mistakes the team has shown.

Thursday’s loss, coming four weeks since that trade deadline day, was a sign of just how far the team has to go. And, frankly, how little the team has accomplished as a group now that the fire of those early days has burned off.

"“This obviously is a different challenge where basically in a lot of ways we’re playing younger guys in games that for the standings are not meaningful,” Clifford said after Thursday’s loss. “But they need to be meaningful to us. They weren’t tonight. We had guys out there worried about numbers who actually on the stat sheet, as I look at it, look ok and were terrible. Not bad, terrible. This whole thing is about getting better and making progress and not about a guy who made one exciting play and were awful the rest of the game. it’s not ok. Not if this is what we say it’s for which is to develop good players.”"

It is hard to say who Clifford is referring to, although it is easy to guess. He singled out Chasson Randle (10 points, four assists 3-for-8 shooting) and the lone player who met his standard on both ends of the floor.

Every player certainly had moments where they were not engaged with the gameplan and struggled to do basic things.

Mohamed Bamba ended up leading the team in scoring with 17 points and 12 rebounds (five offensive) in a start after Wendell Carter was a late scratch. But Bamba scored only eight points on 3-for-11 shooting in the first half.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Meanwhile, the Pelicans scored 42 points in the paint in the first half. That was not all on Bamba. He oftentimes overcommitted to ball handlers who came into the lane. There was plenty of poor defense to go around.

But Bamba certainly stood in for a symbol of how wrong things went Thursday night. And how the team is starting to squander these learning and growing opportunities.

"“I think the biggest issue tonight was about so many points in the paint,” Bamba said after Thursday’s game. “That’s on me. I’m the back-line defender. I’m the 5-man. At the end of the day, I’ve got to protect the paint. The other issue for us was rebounding. That’s also on me. We can send five guys to the defensive glass, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to go out there and try to grab every one.”"

It was not just Bamba though. Cole Anthony scored 14 points and did some good things but started forcing the ball into the paint in the second half. Chuma Okeke was a non-factor as his shooting slump continued. R.J. Hampton had a few highlight plays. But he had his struggles defensively too.

Cascading problems

These cascading problems have unfortunately been repeated since the trade deadline. While the Orlando Magic have typically been fine defending the paint, they usually give up a ton of 3-pointers at a high percentage — the New Orleans Pelicans went 12 for 28 from deep — and a ton of offensive rebounds — 12 offensive rebounds for 18 second-chance points.

These two things especially are pillars of Steve Clifford’s defensive schemes from the last two years. The Magic have been unable to sink their teeth into their identity.

Getting out of this is going to take the team coming together and playing together. As several players noted after the game, this is not a group with a pure scorer or a dominant player on either end. They need everyone working together and communicating to make plays and make things happen.

The team is a “talk team.” Everyone has to work together and that reminder is plastered in the team’s weight room and around the practice facility.

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That has been missing. Everyone is understandably not quite on the same page even a month after the trade deadline with so little practice time. It is a problem that even Clifford acknowledged. The lack of time to acclimate together or even to run out the same lineups consistently thanks to the constant injuries the team has faced all year has further slowed the team’s development and progress.

"“It’s got to be every day,” Chasson Randle said after Thursday’s game. “We’ve got to do it through communication. That’ sin practice and in the locker room reiterating coach’s message, knowing the gameplan and spreading that in the locker room. It’s got to be like a machine. Repetition with our talk, with our communication and with our execution in practice. And it will translate to the court.”"

Even with all those things in place, it might still be tough for the Magic to pick up wins. This team was not designed to make a playoff push in the end. The Magic are angling themselves for Lottery position and to prepare for next year.

Laying the foundation

But the Orlando Magic, as Steve Clifford acknowledged, does not want to let these games go to waste. The wins may be few, but the team can still grow and progress.

That has always been Clifford’s stated goal. He said from the start, he was not going to make things up. The team would still be trying to go for wins and that would still be their measure.

The team’s youth is an impediment for sure. The team is going through things for the first time and experiencing new things.

The Magic continue to say the right things and in hindsight understand these missed learning opportunities. But that is part of the learning process too — turning this understanding into progress.

"“It’s difficult because we’re young,” Mohamed Bamba said after Thursday’s game. “There are a bunch of games where we were in there late and we just didn’t pull it out. And I think our youngness showed. I think that’s a cop-out. At the end of the day, this is a league of talent whether you are 19 or 29. You have to have the ability to go out there and make the right plays and winning plays and pull those wins out.”"

This league is unforgiving. Making the kinds of mistakes the Magic made Thursday night will lead to more embarrassing losses.

Orlando may not be set up for wins. It may still be a tough road ahead this season if that is the measure for what this team’s success is. But there are still things the team can learn and grow from.

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It is necessary the team learns and grows. And games like Thursday where the team is non-competitive (even without so many key players) and repeatedly making the same mistakes sets the team back.

The team’s effort has been fine. There have been no signs these games are on their way. But the team has to learn their focus and attention to detail are needed at all times. Especially with how thin this team’s margins are.

"“We’ve actually worked hard in practice,” Steve Clifford said after Thursday’s game. “We’ve had good attitudes. Hopefully, it’s one of those nights if you believe in that stuff. Good NBA players don’t believe in that. But that’s what we’ll call it. One of those nights. It’s not OK. We have 13 times to try to make it better. But On a night like this and we’ve had a couple of these, nobody gets better.”"

Maybe, in that sense, Orlando did learn something.

Next. Do not worry about Cole Anthony's early inefficiency. dark

Whether the Magic internalize that lesson and grow from it will determine whether this game means anything or was just an embarrassing performance.