Orlando Magic’s young players learn best in close games

Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder took over the fourth quarter as the Orlando Magic struggled to down the stretch. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder took over the fourth quarter as the Orlando Magic struggled to down the stretch. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) /

114. 20. 102. 38. Final

There is no such thing as an ideal loss. Let’s make that clear from the start.

The point of the game is to win. And every win and every loss counts the same in the end. Teams, coaches and players are judged on their record and their ability to get wins.

There is reality, however.

A team like the Los Angeles Lakers at full strength with LeBron James and Anthony Davis measures wins differently than a team like the Orlando Magic. The Lakers are aiming for a championship, and the regular season is building toward that end goal. They do not need their absolute best to win most nights.

The Magic? The Magic are still trying to discover their best way to win. They are still trying to figure out how to compete consistently with their new roster.

Even a stubborn coach like Steve Clifford can admit that wins are going to be hard to come by. But he still wants this time to be meaningful. And blowout losses will not get that job done.

The best way for anyone to learn is to get experience and to feel the pressure of a close game. And if the Magic want to be a team that wins — maybe not this year, but into next year and beyond — the lessons they learn now are going to be key. Nobody wants to accept losing, even if that creates an advantage for this upcoming draft.

The Orlando Magic have struggled to make the most of their post-deadline play as they have suffered several blowout losses. A close game gives them the best learning opportunity.

These players are going to have to contribute toward winning. And figuring out what they need to improve and how they need to come together can only come when there is something on the line — namely that greatest of prizes in any individual game: A win.

After several games of frustration and defeat, the Magic finally learned something about their young roster in a 114-102 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The final margin may not suggest it, but this was a close game. And the Magic’s young roster felt the pressure of a late-game situation and witnessed a veteran team go about its business.

"“I think honestly our age showed at the end of the game,” Cole Anthony said after Monday’s loss to the Lakers. “With two minutes left, we had two or three possessions straight where we didn’t get a quality shot. I should have commanded them more to get the team more organized. It’s on all of us. As we learn more, you will see less of that. That’s our age showing right there. We have to tighten that up and learn from our mistakes.”"

To Anthony’s point, the Magic trailed by four with four minutes to play. On the next three possessions, R.J. Hampton got called for a charge, Wendell Carter missed a short jumper and Chuma Okeke was forced into a difficult 3-pointer as the shot clock expired.

Those were three opportunities to cut into the lead that were lost. They were young team mistakes that had major ripples. That was the point the Lakers finally started to pull away.

First-hand experience

As a young point guard, Cole Anthony witnessed firsthand what a point guard needs to do to win a game.

Seven-year-pro Dennis Schroder scored or assisted on 16 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ final 18 points in the game as they doubled a six-point lead in the final six minutes. Schroder darted into the lane, often getting Anthony on his hip or behind him and forcing the help defense to rotate to him. That left Anthony Davis open or kick-outs to the perimeter.

The Orlando Magic’s defense, which had found a nice groove in the second and third quarters, struggled to track down shooters and struggled especially in transition. Schroder simply picked that apart, controlling the pace of the game and getting to his spot.

Even experiencing this failure and seeing another good team succeed against them should provide lessons for the team the next time they are in a close game.

"“It’s great for anybody, but it is really good for young guys to learn how you play a game to manage it to have a chance to win it at the end,” acting coach Tyrone Corbin said after Monday’s game. “And then how you have to play in those moments. Schroder was terrific in my opinion. Controlling the tempo of the game and making sure he got his guys to their spots and then he came off and either made a play for himself or made a couple of passes to get the ball to the right guy to get a shot.”"

A good loss

If there is such thing as a good loss, it is a game that gets to the fourth quarter and the team can feel the pressure of trying to win. It is hard to learn much about a team when they lose by 20-plus points. Those games are often decided long before the final buzzer, giving plenty of time for players to cover and get their numbers.

Games like Monday’s game are the games where the team can truly learn and figure out how it can win in the long term.

The Magic were scrappy defensively. Their 40-point second quarter was keyed with 12 points of seven turnovers. Orlando hit shots, which helps everyone look good, but they were also first to the floor on several occasions. They rediscovered the scrappy play that began to endear them to fans in their first games together.

Getting across the finish line is where the team showed its inexperience. But getting there was a positive sign for the team and a place for them to grow.

"“I loved our fight,” Tyrone Corbin said after Monday’s game. “Especially in the first half, we went into halftime with a little lead there. We showed a lot of determination and fight and response to the effort we had last night. The shotmaking down the stretch showed who they are. They are veteran guys. They are experienced. They got to the spots they wanted to and made some difficult shots.”"

The Magic still have plenty to work on. Their effort was certainly good enough to keep them engaged and in the game. If there is a lesson here to learn, it is that this effort will make up for a lot of missteps.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But Orlando’s defense still had plenty to work on. The Lakers shot 54-percent for the game and they scored 20 fast-break points. Chuma Okeke said getitng back on defense was perhaps the biggest thing the team needed to improve coming out of this game.

Loosening a stagnant offense that managed only 16 assists on 36 field goals — seven from Anthony alone — will be key too.

The Magic relied heavily on pick and rolls and dribble creation to score. That put the team in a 16-point hole in the first quarter. But the Magic were able to get enough efficiency and get to the line enough to make it work the rest of the game.

That as much as anything hurt the Magic in the final quarter. These last 11 games will be about learning these lessons and getting back into these situations to try to show some growth.

"“This is about everyone on this team getting better, learning and not being in the same place we are right now 10 games from now,” Cole Anthony said after Monday’s game. “Whatever we learn, whether it is small or big, as long as we learn something it’s going to set us up to be in a better position for next year.”"

There will be some losses like these. And after taking so many crushing defeats, having a loss like this feels refreshing. A team can live with a loss that comes down to making and missing shots.

That is what happened Monday. Orlando missed its shots down the stretch and a veteran Los Angeles team knew how to create quality shots to pull away for the win.

Injuries have kept Orlando Magic fighting together. dark. Next

The question will be whether the Magic learn the lessons of this loss, mature and deliver the one sure sign of true progress: A win.