Orlando Magic find their blueprint to win in first victory of season

Cole Anthony was on the attack early to lead the Orlando Magic to a win. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony was on the attack early to lead the Orlando Magic to a win. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports /

110. 38. 104. 27. Final

Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley spent his entire offseason outlining how he wanted his team to play. The buzz words he chose were the only clue anyone had for the Magic’s identity. Everyone wondered what they meant.

The preseason started to reveal some clues for the team’s burgeoning identity. But none of it mattered until the regular season.

And the first two games of the Magic’s season showed a team depleted from injury and showing its youth. In either case, this was not the team anyone promised the fans.

Orlando was sloppy with the ball and struggled to keep it moving. They were late on rotations and generally not in tune with the game plan. It was a hard thing to square after a relatively encouraging preseason for the team.

It was clear the Magic would need a whole lot of work, maturity and fine-tuning. At that point, they were not even competing in games.

Orlando needed a blueprint for how to win. They needed to see all the pieces work and understand what it will take to be successful. They needed a mindset and a method they could repeat.

That was what was missing most of all from two blowout losses where the Magic were out of the game by halftime and struggled to keep their heads above water.

After a disorganized loss in their home opener, the Magic needed to have some answers. They needed to find this way to play.

The Orlando Magic needed a blueprint for how to win and something to instill confidence. The Magic found that by playing aggressively to score a win.

Whether it was Cole Anthony’s determination early — 15 of his 29 points came in the first quarter — or Terrence Ross’ fire late — all of his 22 points came in the fourth quarter — the Magic found this blueprint and this energy they will need to succeed this season at Madison Square Garden.

In a 110-104 victory to open their ledger in the 2022 season, Orlando found its way to play.

"“I think they understand the resiliency we have to play with the sense of urgency we have to play with and the ability to share the basketball,” Mosley said after Sunday’s game. “The ball moved. Everyone had their chance to touch the basketball. We moved the ball side to side. Defensively we locked in and grinded. These guys understand who we have to be and not getting down when teams go on runs.”"

The Magic did a lot of the things they struggled with in the first two games.

They dished out 22 assists on 36 field goals. They gave up only 37.0-percent shooting and 27.1-percent shooting from deep, seemingly suckering the Knicks into settling for long-range shots after they had a solid start from deep. Many of those shots were contested as the Magic scrambled better to shooters.

They still gave up 16 offensive rebounds but only 14 second-chance points. Their 13 turnovers became only 11 points.

The Knicks did not take advantage of the things that helped them build out that lead in Friday’s game. Orlando really did not let them.

More than that, the Knicks put the screw on the Magic early. They built a 13-point lead in the second quarter and seemed poised to keep extending it.

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This is where the Magic have struggled and let go of the rope this season.

Instead, after giving up a 14-2 run in the second quarter to take that 13-point lead, the Magic answered with a 13-4 run of their own. The Magic answered the bell by moving the ball and digging in defensively. This was not the team that struggled so much in the first two games offensively.

They carried that mentality through the entire game.

"“From the jump, we came in with a different mindset,” Cole Anthony said after Sunday’s game. “We were aggressive. We weren’t just aggressive to score, we were aggressive to make plays for each other. That was kind of what Mos preached to us after our last loss to the Knicks. In that game, we had a pretty good third quarter. We rallied together and made a little run. We kind of wanted to have instead of one good quarter, put four good quarters together. I think that’s what we were able to do tonight.”"

That close to Friday’s game was pointed at as some kind of moral victory. And it seemed the things the team felt it did well in the close of that game carried over.

But it was really more about this mindset change. The team was more aggressive and assertive as it ran through its sets and put more ball pressure on defensively. They made the Knicks more uncomfortable and did a good job contesting shots.

Anthony displayed this tenacity better than anyone. He scored 15 of his 29 points in the first quarter and finished with 9-for-16 shooting and 5-for-9 shooting from deep.

Making shots certainly helps with things. It made everyone look better. But Anthony came out with a determination to make sure the team competed.

He added 16 rebounds and eight assists, recording his first career double-double and nearly making it a triple-double in the process.

The Magic needed someone to take charge after struggling offensively in the first two games of the season. They had a lot of players trying to do too much to get things going rather than playing naturally. That is what Anthony provided. He took the reigns.

And that set up Terrence Ross to drop 22 points in the fourth quarter and put the game firmly out of reach, with the Magic building as much as a 10-point lead.

Ross has been ice cold to start the season as the team’s poor ball movement has locked him out of the offense. But he moved solidly to get open and the Magic finally got the ball to him in rhythm.

This was the “Human Torch” that Magic fans have loved for years. But Ross’ freedom is usually a product of the ball moving and teammates working to get him going.

The Magic found the way to get their offense out of neutral.

"“We’re getting there,” Ross said after Sunday’s game. “Every day we’re getting better. Trying to get the guys not to think so much and play naturally. Just understand the nature of the game, it’s going to be a long game. There are going to be a lot of runs and ups and downs. It’s about how you weather it, stay together and push through. The more you push and don’t give up, anything can happen.”"

This message of staying together and pushing through has been a constant. Players have talked throughout the preseason and season about the need to be resilient. They will have to weather a lot of these storms.

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Orlando still has a lot of work to do. The team is still making plenty of mistakes in the course of the game. And the team will have to clean it up.

But after two games to open the season that cast a lot of doubt on what the team is trying to do and whether things can click into place before all those critical players return from injury, Orlando needed this shot in the arm.

The team needed to see all the pieces work.

"“We kind of showed ourselves we can be a pretty good team,” Anthony said after Sunday’s game. “It’s not easy. That game was not easy at all. We’ve kind of shown a level we can play at. Now it’s just a matter of maintaining that level. And not just maintaining but building off that.”"

That will always be a challenge for young teams. Orlando has done it once, playing with aggressive energy and grinding its way to a victory.

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This game was their roadmap to victories. It will take some good shooting, passing and aggressive defense to get there. And that is something to build on.