Orlando Magic aim to earn opponents’ respect as they rebuild

The Orlando Magic are still struggling to compete consistently but they feel their competitiveness is helping them earn respect and make their mark int he league. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic are still struggling to compete consistently but they feel their competitiveness is helping them earn respect and make their mark int he league. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Final. 136. 89. 118. 38

The Milwaukee Bucks were always keeping the Orlando Magic at arm’s length.

Even after the Bucks lost a 20-point lead in the first half for the second straight game and watched the Magic tie the game in the third quarter, they were able to give themselves enough distance to feel comfortable throughout the fourth quarter.

But it was never too comfortable. With the way the Magic were scoring, they always seemed one last burst away from making this a game again. The Bucks could not relax.

Like in their 127-110 victory on Tuesday, Milwaukee needed Giannis Antetokounmpo’s brilliance to finish things off. Or one last play from Khris Middleton or Jrue Holiday to give the team the final distance they needed to breathe easier.

The Bucks won the game again 136-118 at Amway Center on Thursday. They were in control for much of the game after retaking a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. But it was hardly as easy as the final score indicated.

The Orlando Magic again struggled to make the game really competitive in the fourth quarter. But their never-quit attitude made the Milwaukee Bucks nervous enough.

This Magic team was not one to give up or give in, even when facing another big deficit. Orlando may not be winning games at this stage of the team’s development. As frustrating as that reality is, they know that is something that will remain difficult for this group.

But they still have one goal: They want teams to know who they played when the Magic line up against them.

"“I think we just want to be respected by everyone in this league,” R.J. Hampton said after Thursday’s loss. “Obviously, the record speaks for itself. But we’re a team that’s going to go out there and fight every night and not be a laughing stock. Teams know when they come to the Orlando Magic no matter who is on the floor it’s going to be a hard game.”"

Since some struggles at the start of the season, it is hard to say the Magic are getting blown out of every game.

Orlando is still playing for a bit of respect though. And still playing for an identity that forces even the best teams in the league to play with attention.

Even though the Bucks won both games by a fairly comfortable margin and with control for much of the game, in both games they had to sweat it out when they did not bring their best game.

In Tuesday’s loss for the Magic, it was the 19-0 run that helped cut a 29-point deficit down to eight, forcing the Bucks to get into high gear to finish the game out. Antetokounmpo needed one last push to put the Magic fully away in that one after the Magic made their run behind Franz Wagner’s individual brilliance.

Thursday featured much the same pattern.

The Bucks went up big again in the first half but never could put the Magic away. Orlando went on a 20-8 run to open the quarter and tie the game 71. The Magic even took a brief one-point lead before DeMarcus Cousins led the Bucks back into the lead as the Magic turned to their bench.

Antetokounmpo needed to score 16 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter to put the game fully away. The Magic, especially coming off their bench, could not find enough big shots to keep pace or the defense to keep the Bucks off the foul line.

Orlando will still be searching for that last little bit to get over the hump and actually win games. That is still the ultimate and only way to gain respect in the league.

But the Magic have continually shown they are willing to and are going to fight all the way to the buzzer. That is quickly becoming a key part of the team’s culture.

"“I think they did a good job battling,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday’s loss. “Understanding there were certain situations and isolations that we caught ourselves in, obviously going with Giannis able to get downhill. For the most part, our guys came out and competed from the beginning coming from the gates, coming out of the locker room. Just ready to go and fire around for each other. Continue to move the basketball and defensively just try to sit down and guard.”"

The Magic have done plenty of battling. That part is a positive for a young team.

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They still put themselves in holes and they still have a lot of growth and improvement to do to compete on a consistent basis. A lot of that is defending more consistently and generating enough offense to allow their defense to get set up.

The Magic know there is still talent to come and add to the roster as players return from injury — Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba both came off health and safety protocols for Thursday’s game although both are in conditioning to return. That will help them be more competitive.

Until then, the Magic have rightly focused on little victories and sticking together as a group.

As the Magic made their run to tie the game and briefly take the lead in the third quarter, the Magic’s entire bench was involved in the game.

After Wendell Carter dropped the hammer on Giannis Antetokounmpo for a big dunk, Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony were jumping up and down in excitement over the play.

Anthony was standing for practically the entire game for any big play. The bench was very involved throughout the game.

That has been a consistent part of the culture the team is trying to build. And it is as much a part of the fight the team is showing. The players are staying engaged and pushing each other at every moment of the game, regardless of the score.

That kind of push to play with effort will translate onto the court at some point.

"“We have such a great spirit about this team,” Mosley said before Thursday’s game. “It’s a young tied together team. Just having these guys around, their energy and spirit has been fantastic. We were coming from 20 points down, if you watch our bench, you see the energy and the juice and the passion and they are pulling for one another. That’s been the theme for what our guys are. We’ve said it from the beginning, they empower one another, they support one another and they want to keep it going.”"

The Magic have certainly been tied together and pulled for each other. And that attention to what everyone is doing throughout the course of the game ultimately leads to runs that cut large deficits down.

This young team is still learning that it is rarely the home run play that gets them back in the game. That is a tough thing for every young team to learn and this team has shown its immaturity in those situations.

Opponents are quickly learning they cannot fall asleep at the wheel. The Magic are spunky enough to give them a game, even if their bench units still leave a lot to be desired.

But there are still those moments of growth. And those moments are ultimately what leaves an imprint on opponents. The Magic are still getting to the point where they earn respect. They are going to have to shock some teams and really compete to get there.

But the Magic are certainly no pushovers. They may not be able to get the full 48, but they have their moments and at least make some of the better teams think some throughout these games.

Next. The toughest part of the Orlando Magic's schedule is over. dark

In two contests against the Bucks this, the Magic showed they still have a long way to go to stand up to the champ. But they also showed they are not going to go quietly if they lose.