Orlando Magic veterans speak up, team responds with improved effort

Gary Harris spoke up as the Orlando Magic prepared for their final road trip and the rest of the team seemed to listen. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Gary Harris spoke up as the Orlando Magic prepared for their final road trip and the rest of the team seemed to listen. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

102. 38. 114. 89. Final

The Orlando Magic were certainly not happy with their loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. They were blown out from the very beginning and took a 32-point loss that was as big as 42 in the second half in their final home game.

Coach Steve Clifford said after Monday’s practice that the team had to find what it could lean on even on their worst days and trust both what they were running and each other to get out of this rut.

That was a message that was necessary for the team to make some progress and slowly become a winning franchise. It was a preview of what they would need to do next year and as they continue to grow.

Before practice though, another message needed to be delivered. The team needed to air some things out before they got to work and got a rare chance to drill down some of their weaknesses in practice. Clifford wanted to give every player the chance to air things out and comment on where the team was at.

Of all the players who spoke, one player’s voice and words stood out.

Veteran Gary Harris spoke up during the Orlando Magic’s practice Monday which refocused the team’s effort and resumed the necessary growth to finish the season.

Steve Clifford said Gary Harris talked about readiness, being ready to start the game and sustaining play for 48 minutes. It was certainly a message his coach noticed but one that also perked everyone else’s ears up. Harris is one of the few veteran players on the roster and when he speaks everyone seems to listen.

"“To be honest, we looked like a totally different team,” Clifford said after Tuesday’s 114-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. “To me, the things that he said to the youngest guys made the biggest difference. We had a better approach.”"

That message about readiness was certainly well taken and needed. It certainly seemed to snap the team back to attention.

They played with better energy and attention to detail from the beginning. They were able to wall off and pressure Giannis Antetokounmpo, despite a solid 27-point, 11-for-18 shooting performance. Orlando never really let Milwaukee get too far away from the team.

The Magic will put themselves in a better position to compete and to win games with the kind of focused effort they had. It was good enough that they were able to make it a game for most of the time. The Bucks never were able to put enough distance between them and the Magic. Orlando never lost the ship.

"“It was a lot more fun today because we competed,” Moritz Wagner said after Tuesday’s loss. “Regardless of what team it is, you have to come out ready every day. I think we did that today. Great effort and we did a lot of good things, defensively especially. Offensively, I think we can still get into a better flow and grow on that end. Just like defensively, we have to keep going and stay the course.”"

So message received. The team put its best foot forward and played a far more energetic game. They took the words from one of their veteran leaders and applied them as best as they could.

As Wagner put it, it is a “grown man’s league” and when a veteran like Harris who has been through plenty of battles and been a part of winning teams speaks up, it has a major influence on the young players.

This is one of the reasons it will be important to retain some veterans in the rotation for this young team to grow properly. Those players have the respect of everyone on the team. When they are invested in the team, it can have a major effect.

So too can another practice. Young teams need the ability to get into practice and correct mistakes in real-time. Orlando had its first real practice in nearly two weeks. And one of the challenges of this season — both from the start and since the trade deadline — has been the lack of practice time because of the compressed schedule.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

It has prevented the team from getting organized and correcting mistakes. The team has only had film review and walkthroughs to implement these things. And while teams have to become good at these methods of improvement, young teams especially will struggle.

Monday’s speech and practice had the clear intended effects.

"“Especially with a team like this where we are young, practice time is valuable,” Clifford said after Tuesday’s loss. “I do think it was beneficial. Most games are won before they are played, right? We definitely had the right attitude coming in here tonight against a terrific team. I do think having a chance to practice yesterday helped and his messaging was the biggest part of that.”"

Of course, the Magic still lost the game. And despite their improved effort, they were never really in the game. The Bucks took an 11-point lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to five turnovers and a 1-for-9 performance from beyond the arc.

Orlando’s effort was better and the team fought through its poor shooting, to stay in the game. But the team never got closer than seven after the Bucks took a double-digit lead. The Magic were always climbing uphill and always fighting to get back.

The fighting part is important, but so too is the execution part. This is a game that is measured in wins and losses. No one can ever forget that.

The Magic got an improved effort, but there was still a lot to fill in.

Harris, even, scored 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting. He made three of his seven 3-pointers, an improvement over some of his poor shooting performances since joining the team. It was not a perfect effort by any means.

The team still needs execution to go with its effort.

Still, effort goes a long way. It helped limit the effect of giving up 17 offensive rebounds to just 13 second-chance points. It helped the Magic stay in contact and give themselves a chance to win the game.

This team still has a lot of work to do.

But the message was still a good one to receive. The team needed a kick in its own butt and to recenter and refocus. They needed to get a chance to buy back in to their way to play and see it work.

It did not result in a win Tuesday, but the improved effort still created a better outcome. One the Magic can still use to grow. And for a young team, those growing experiences are vital.

Next. Orlando Magic's first rebuild comes at home. dark

Message received, then? The Magic have three more games to grow and build upon these seeming little victories.