Orlando Magic trying to regain their standard as season winds down

Moe Wagner has been a constant source of energy for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Moe Wagner has been a constant source of energy for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

89. 38. Final. 102. 81

The Orlando Magic needed some energy plays to get back in the game. Turnovers had frustrated this young, undermanned team and put them in a deep hole.

But Jamahl Mosley’s team wants to be about something. There is an attitude and a work ethic the team has tried to build. It has been a throughline for the team from the first days of training camp all the way through the year.

If the Magic were going to lose, they were always going to go down swinging and they were always going to play with high effort. It may not be perfect but it would always be there. That, at least, could be a foundation for a young team to grow and build.

The Orlando Magic needed that spark and a reminder of this identity and this calling in the fourth quarter of their game against the Toronto Raptors on Friday. That is when Moe Wagner slid in front of Pascal Siakam and took a charge.

The fact this came after Markelle Fultz side-swiped Gary Trent for a steal that led to a 3-on-1 break ending in a Moe Wagner dunk only added to the emotion of the moment. The entire Magic bench was up for both plays and Mosley gave an exclamatory fist pump to the air for the sequence.

The Magic are still seeking some consistency. They are still sitting a lot of players and likely eyeing the offseason more than these games. But after a week of some disappointing and lethargic performances from the team, the Magic seemed to find their identity again.

The Orlando Magic are trying to get back to their roots and embrace the high-energy and hustle identity they have tried to build all year, even as this season drifts toward its end.

It was hardly enough to win. Orlando still has some big hurdles to overcome with this roster and turned the ball over 21 times for 32 Toronto points against Toronto’s physical defense. The Magic did not have the firepower to keep up or break free, falling 102-89 at the Amway Center on Friday.

Still, the team’s best moments and the most encouraging signs this team can give in this moment come when they play with this energy and when they commit to this sort of identity.

It is back to not being much, but it is something. It is what the Magic have always wanted to be this year.

"“We stay involved with these guys,” Mosley said after Friday’s loss. “We keep encouraging them. We keep them lifted up, understanding they are going to continue competing for each other no matter what is going on until that final horn goes off. That’s what we continue to ask of these guys. It’s partly my job to keep them encouraged as we go through all of this.”"

That motivation part is perhaps the most difficult thing to manage at this point of the season.

Orlando has clearly turned some eye to preserving lottery odds with some odd rotation decisions and limiting minutes for key players. Wendell Carter was ruled out in the morning and it is hard to see him playing the rest of the year with a sprained wrist. Jalen Suggs is recovering slowly according to Jamahl Mosley and is likely done for the year too.

That has not stopped players from playing hard in the minutes they have been given — Ignas Brazdeikis followed up a solid game against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday with 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting in Friday’s game.

But with this clear signal that results are not as important, it is easy to see slipping in the effort and energy the Magic have said they want to be about all year.

Those basic ideas and tenets from training camp are something anyone can forget or lose as the season wears on. Especially as the team seems like it is packing it in.

It is easy to forget now about the “bell plays” of October and how much the team just wanted to be an outfit that fought.

With the goals for the season either largely completed or coming beyond the games left in the season, Orlando has kind of lost a bit of its standard. With so many new players, players in expanded roles and new lineups, the Magic have needed a reminder of who they want to be.

To see some of it restored and to see the team take ownership and hold itself accountable even to this low standard is at least something.

"“We all want to get better,” Markelle Fultz said after Friday’s loss. “We all have the same goal in mind. In order to do that, we’ve got to put each other’s feet to the fire. The more vocal I can be, the more I can stay on our teammates to stay locked in and not worried about these last couple of games and that we’re building for something bigger. I think we all have the right mindset. It’s just about working on the things we need to get better at and things we continue to make mistakes in and build on what we’re doing good.”"

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There is still something to accomplish and something for the Magic to do.

Wins might be beyond their reach. But Orlando can at least do what the team did throughout the early part of the season and build the right habits and right energy.

This team has stayed tied together throughout the year. It was not just that fourth-quarter moment when the team was up cheering for each other. Any of those “bell” plays brought energy from the bench and a wave of applause. This group was trying to get itself back in the game.

When it seemed like the Magic were about to get run out of their own gym and drift to the end of the season, they rallied and cut into the deficit.

It was not enough to win and that remains the big thing this team is struggling to overcome, leaving them with the worst record in the league at the moment. But Orlando is still trying to scratch and claw for something.

As the season begins to wind down, Orlando is still trying to find its identity and its purpose. It is still trying to make these last games at least somewhat productive, even if it is on the smallest scales.

The team is still trying to regain and set its standard for the project it is working on. There are bigger things ahead and the players seem just as eager to work toward them. But it starts with those “bell plays” and those simple ideas from training camp.

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Every little bit helps for now.