Orlando Magic stay tied together to get through rough season

R.J. Hampton and the Orlando Magic are still working to establish their base defensively. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
R.J. Hampton and the Orlando Magic are still working to establish their base defensively. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

There have been several points that seemed destined for fracture for a young Orlando Magic team. Plenty of points where a team’s will would break and they would go on and drift for a few games before snapping back to some attention.

This is a natural thing for a team near the bottom of the standings to do. Players start to sit out and prepare for the offseason. Everyone’s eyes start to look ahead.

It sure felt like the Magic, who had valiantly fought and given solid effort throughout the season, were hitting that point of fracture and finally broke as they gave up 60 points to Kyrie Irving and 51 points to Saddiq Bey in back-to-back games. Those losses to the Brooklyn Nets and Detroit Pistons were the most points the team has given up in back-to-back games in team history.

No one would seemingly blame the team for starting to peek ahead.

But as coach Jamahl Mosley has said time and time again. This group is as tied together as any team he has been around. Judging from their words, they are invested in the project too and see the long-term vision.

The Orlando Magic are still battling through the final 10 games of the season hoping to build their foundation. The team has stayed tied together to recover and respond throughout the season.

That investment and belief is still something that gets put on display even as the season draws to a close.

Time and time again, this group shows that is not what it is made of. After spending much of the 2022 calendar year as a strong defensive team, those two performances (along with a few others) felt like youthful lapses. Or, at least that is what the Magic wanted them to be.

What this team has really been about is the will Wendell Carter showed to propel the Orlando Magic ahead in the fourth quarter in Sunday’s 90-85 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It has long been about the celebration that came after it too as Mo Bamba and Markelle Fultz ambushed Wendell Carter with a water bottle shower while he was speaking with Dante Marchitelli of Bally Sports Florida.

What does it mean to be tied together? It is celebrating these little victories and absorbing hard lessons and bouncing back.

Progress is rarely a straight line. But what has endeared this team to fans in this difficult first year of a rebuild is the way the team pushes and pulls for each other.

"“I think it’s important to keep playing for each other,” R.J. Hampton said after practice Monday. “We’re a family here. No matter if we are in playoff contention or out of it, we’re still going to play hard every night. We want to get better as a group. We have a lot of young talent on this team. I think these last 10 games or so is definitely going to help us build into this summer and into next season.”"

That is what made Sunday’s win so huge.

Hampton said after practice Monday that Sunday’s win was huge for the team. The group bought back into what the coaches were preaching and they turned in statistically the best defensive performance of the season — an 85.0 defensive rating.

That is quite the response after struggling the previous two games and seeing noticeable slips on the defensive end. Even if it was against a weakened Oklahoma City Thunder team.

Defense is obviously the most difficult thing to measure and the most difficult thing for young players to learn. The Magic have mapped out defense as a key part of their identity.

There has been undeniable progress on that end and it is a sign of how tied together this group is.

For the season, the team is ranked 19th in the league with a 111.9 defensive rating. Since Jan. 1, the Magic are ninth with a 110.8 defensive rating. And since the All-Star Break, they are seventh at 109.8.

Orlando still has its hiccups, not as bad as the games last week but still some difficult defensive games, especially against strong offensive teams. But there is a lot of good going on defensively. And this is a place where the Magic’s young players are taking the lead to figure out problems and take ownership of the team.

"“I think guys on this team have to take the challenge to be great on defense every single night,” Hampton said after practice Monday. “It starts with everybody. If one person’s energy is off, I feel like it affects the whole team. When all of our defensive energy is good and we’re clicking, that’s when I think we’re at our best.”"

Orlando has had a lot of these discussions internally on how to improve defensively. And it is a credit to this young team that it has been able to figure things out.

But this is not the only time the team has had to work through these issues together. There have been stories told about this team having discussions in the locker room and addressing issues before the coaches come in and talk. Everyone is taking responsibility for this rebuild and for this team.

The Magic’s record would not suggest a team that is still fighting and striving together. Then again, the Magic are 6-6 since the All-Star Break. They are doing what young teams should do and improving as the season goes on.

Orlando had its blip, the team came together and they fought hard to get a bounceback win. That does not mean the work is done. And everyone has recognized and known that.

The Magic are trying to establish their culture still. And this year is only about laying the foundations. And so the team has bonded and drawn together in getting to work after each game.

"“I think the one thing we said we’re going to lay a foundation of work,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Monday’s practice. “We’re going to continue to work no matter the outcome of games. We’re going to continue to get guys better. You see that in guys stepping into different roles, understanding different responsibilities, the spirit of our bench and the spirit of guys playing or not playing. The one answer to that is we’re going to continue to work no matter what is happening inside or outside. These guys are going to keep pulling for one another.”"

That part is still abundantly evident.

Whether it is celebrations on the sideline or this will to come back — yes even coming back within a game and playing the final buzzer — the Magic are trying to build this thing up together.

Who knows what will last beyond this season?

But at this stage, the Magic need everyone pulling together to get through this season and establish that foundation. The team has shown that it is still together. It has shown the resiliency to bounce back.

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That has all helped the team grow.