Orlando Magic missing consistency of execution to compete regularly

The Orlando Magic continue to struggle to execute at a consistently high level as they struggle to end the season. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic continue to struggle to execute at a consistently high level as they struggle to end the season. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

38. 116. 125. Final. 93

The regular season is a grind.

The everyday battle of the season is to find a way to play at a high level every day and every game. It is a measure of consistency and focus every single day.

The playoffs are about executing at a high level and individual brilliance. The regular season and success in the regular season is about what you can count on every day — on your best days and your worst days — and pressing that advantage.

Some like to describe the long slog of a regular season as a marathon. There are 82 games (usually, 72 this year) and it can feel like it takes forever to get through. Everyone fears the January doldrums in the middle of the season and the usual ups and downs that occur.

It is not a marathon though, as Steve Clifford points out. It is a sprint at all times. Everyone is battling and jockeying for position and a win here or a loss there can have major ripples in the standings. Game 1 is as important as Game 72.

Each contest is a test of the team’s identity and their ability to play at a high level. It is a test to find your level so that even bad games can be salvageable.

For this young Orlando Magic team, and really any young team, this is one of the most difficult tasks they face.

Those lapses in execution and focus have been on display since the trade deadline. But they were certainly on display in a 116-93 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday at State Farm Arena.

The Orlando Magic continued to struggle to close out its season as its inability to execute and lack of practice time continue to put the team at a severe deficit on a nightly basis.

The Hawks were able to come around screens with impunity, running right downhill to the rim. The team’s communication was poor for long stretches, only able to recover off of grit and determination.

The offense was far worse. The Magic struggled to move the ball effectively and the Hawks eventually ate them up. Even on a poor shooting night for Atlanta, the team still pulled away.

That is just not something Orlando is able to do consistently.

"“Right now, I think where our guys are, we have a group with the exception of Gary Harris are learning how difficult it is to get you in position to have the right level of intensity and concentration every night,” Clifford said after Thursday’s loss. “Tonight, in terms of execution areas that you have to do — controlling cutters, controlling the ball, closeout game, ball movement, purpose of play on offense, it wasn’t close.“That may be the biggest lesson. The best teams play every night. The best players don’t take nights off. That’s the difference and I think that is one of the lessons this team is learning.”"

Orlando’s offensive woes since the trade deadline are well documented — the team has the second-worst offensive rating (103.0 points per 100 possession), the worst effective field goal percentage (47.4-percent) and the worst true shooting percentage (51.4-percent). The team has struggled to generate shots consistently.

Indeed, the one area that seems consistent about the team’s six wins since the deadline has been the team’s 3-point shooting. There is a way for the team to play and to win in there.

But the team has not executed at that level consistently enough. And that is on either end.

Orlando’s defense has slipped considerably since the deadline too with new personnel. But this was a poor defensive effort on the details the Magic missed. The Hawks were able to execute with seeming impunity. Or they were able to consistently get into the lane.

The numbers do not pop off the page, but it was clear the Magic were a step behind.

This is all a matter of execution — something usually built up over a training camp and through a season. This young group has not had the time to get on the same page.

The lack of practice and playing time together has not helped matters either. The team is still clearly trying to learn each other and where to be on a consistent basis.

"“It’s tough but these guys are young and they are going to figure it out,” Gary Harris said after Thursday’s game. “We’re all figuring it out one game at a time. We have some highs and we have some lows. We do some good things but we have a lot of things we need to improve on. Just take it one day at a time and get better each game. Just keep working, that’s all we can do.”"

It is easy to see with the team’s poor execution and pace how disorganized the team is. Clifford said one of the issues the team faces when things get stuck is that they do not have three or four plays they are confident they can execute at a high level consistently.

This is certainly a product of both the team’s lack of practice time and its youth. Orlando has not been able to get the finer details of this season down at a high level.

There are plenty of young player mistakes too.

The team missing shots early seems to set the team on a bad path. As any young team would struggle. That was part of Harris’ message to the team after practice Monday. It did lead to a brief spurt in attention to detail and focus.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Still, that focus and attention might help but there still needs to be a level of execution the Magic just have not been able to reach for a variety of reasons.

"“This is a weird situation for everyone with the circumstances all year,” Harris said after Thursday’s game. “But there are no excuses. Nobody in the league is going to care about that. You’ve got to learn from it. You’ve got to remember these feelings and work harder. We have another game tomorrow and we have a lot to correct. We have to come out with the right mentality and come out the right way and finish these last two games strong and then a summer to get better.”"

Everyone still has their attention on the future. With just two games left, it is impossible not to eye what comes next beyond this year and the chance to get that fresh start — not to mention a chance to work and learn these higher levels of execution necessary to compete and win.

This is still something the team is missing. It is something obvious beyond the stats. It feels a bit greater than the team’s youth and inexperience.

Orlando is still trying to execute at a higher level. That part has eluded them for a while.

Some of this the team should get better at with repetition in games and study on film. A team with more experience and cohesion might be able to do that.

But this group with its youth and injuries has struggled at this basic skill. And that is why the Magic are struggling as much as anything.

Next. Orlando Magic must have eye on next year's team as they finish season. dark

They need to be able to execute consistently to give themselves any chance to win.