Orlando Magic’s season will depend on how they respond to runs

Orlando Magic center Wendell Carter came away from Wednesday's game disappointed with his response to the run. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic center Wendell Carter came away from Wednesday's game disappointed with his response to the run. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports /

Wendell Carter had a monster game for the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night in New Orleans. His 13 points and 11 rebounds were felt at every moment, especially in a third-quarter run that brought the Magic briefly back into the lead.

He flew in for rebounds on both sides, warding off players fighting him for position. He scored effectively in the post and around the basket. He stepped out and hit 3-pointers, a second straight game where that newfound weapon came into play.

If Carter plays with that intensity and energy every night, the Magic have a strong backline defender and a solid offensive option to turn to.

In the preseason, individual spurts like this are often enough to call a game successful. Especially for someone who has been through the NBA ringer enough to know what the preseason is.

But Carter was not happy. In a game where he looked dominant for a long stretch and seemed to be making good on a lot of potential that had struggled to come out to this point in his career, Carter was focused on the bigger picture for his team.

He pointed out that he was a -17 in a 104-86 loss to the Pelicans despite his strong individual performance and that was something that could not happen.

This was not a good game for the Magic. In the end, they faced adversity and a challenge and left the principles and dictates of their offense and defense. They made a manageable deficit worse.

The Orlando Magic struggled to respond to one final run from the New Orleans Pelicans. And this battle to bounce back and answer runs will be a key story this year.

Orlando let adversity beat them.

"“There was a time in the third quarter, I think it was 71-65, we were acting like we were down by 30,” Carter said after Wednesday’s game. “I want to be a leader for this team. I can’t be having my head hanging after they made two or three threes. We’ve got to be able to punch them back in the mouth, be able to get good shots on the offensive end. We can’t hang our heads just because they make a couple of shots.”"

At that point in the game, Josh Hart had just stolen the ball from Moritz Wagner at the top of the key and the Pelicans were six points into a 10-3 run that took a tie game and put it firmly in New Orleans’ grasp.

Things only got worse from there. The Magic cut the lead to one early in the fourth quarter only to see it expand back to nine at 83-74 with 9:27 to play.

Coach Jamahl Mosley put a group of regular rotation players to try to cut back into the deficit. But New Orleans kept rolling.

The Pelicans completed a 14-0 run to go up by 15 and put the game firmly away. By the time the Magic’s rotation players checked out, it was an 18-point deficit on a 19-2 run in a span of four minutes.

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The NBA is a game of runs, as the cliche goes. The trick is understanding how to handle these runs and dealing with struggle to get yourself back right.

Mosley was clearly going for this lesson when he put his rotation players back in during the fourth quarter. It was an early test the Magic did not pass. And a learning lesson for the young team.

"“Basketball is a game of runs,” Mosley said after Wednesday’s game. “Helping them understand and helping our guys realize that you are never out of it, you have to continue to play. One possession can change the tide of a game. As long as we keep our mindset on that, I think we’ll be OK.”"

In this sense, it is still all about the details.

The Magic allowed the Pelicans to shoot 18 of 35 from beyond the arc with Nickeil Alexander-Walker hitting five in the second quarter to erase an early lead and flip the game on its head and then Trey Murphy hitting six for the game to lead the Pelicans to a win.

Carter said he felt the team did not recognize personnel effectively, allowing the Pelicans’ shooters to get open. Mosley said there were some players for the Pelicans that the scouting report did not identify as shooters who got hot.

The result was still the same and the Magic never could find an answer.

Still, they showed they are capable of responding. After giving up an early eight-point lead and falling behind by eight, the Magic responded and retook the lead. There were certainly spurts of strong play for the Magic — including from Carter.

It will be a question long-term for this season how the Magic handle themselves when shots are not falling. The team’s energy seemed to wane some as they struggled to shoot

The overarching lesson of responding to runs and to offensive struggles is going to be a storyline throughout the year. It is easy to play with the energy and physicality the team wants when they are rewarded with baskets on the other end. Keeping that up when the shots are not falling and staying organized in transition is a much different challenge.

Carter said he felt the team did not do a good job moving on from plays through the course of the game. That will be a focus for them moving forward.

If that is the lesson the team is going to gather from a game like this, that will be a good one. And preseason is the time for a young team to learn it.

"“I feel like we are going to be in that situation a lot this year,” Terrence Ross said after Wednesday’s game. “We have to keep playing and fighting through. This is one of those things. It’s a good teaching point early in the season. The better we can stay together and push through, the better things will be there down the line. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”"

The Magic figure to face some stiff runs and even long losing stretches this season if predictions for the season are to be believed. A lot of what this season can be will be determined by how the team responds in these moments and whether the team can push back and center themselves again.

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With a young team, that will undoubtedly remain a process throughout the season. Games like Wednesday’s where the team struggles could be part of that process. At least, this needs to be a lesson of their commitment to what they are running a chance to refocus in the moment.

Some context is important. The Magic were experimenting plenty with lineups and rotations this game. Veterans Gary Harris and Terrence Ross sat out the entire second half. They surely would have been valuable to help refocus the team — certainly their shooting would have helped.

It is preseason, after all.

But the Magic are going to face this adversity again. And these are the moments that will really test their system and their commitment to it. This is why this response is so important.

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And why Orlando has to take that important lesson in the preseason before the games start to count.