Orlando Magic have opportunity to close the season, on players not to waste it

Mo Bamba could be playing his last games with the Orlando Magic and he is not making the strongest statement. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Mo Bamba could be playing his last games with the Orlando Magic and he is not making the strongest statement. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

38. Final. 118. 27. 88

If it is not clear already, time is ticking on the season.

There are only three games left. With the playoffs long gone, the best odds to win the Lottery nearly clinched and a willingness to sit players with any injury, there is little for the Orlando Magic to play for.

It has felt that way for the last week or so.

Orlando is waiting for the end of the season. There is very little interest in what is happening on the floor. That was evident in a 118-88 loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday night at the Amway Center, leaving the Orlando Magic dangerously close to setting the franchise record for fewest wins with 10.

Nobody cares if the team is winning or losing at this point. Everyone recognizes the benefits of finishing with the worst record and putting themselves in the best position to win the NBA Draft Lottery. That is what this season was always about in the end.

But it could never be the only thing. That was one of the mistakes of the last rebuild. There always needs to be some direction and something the team is working on.

The Orlando Magic are drifting toward the end of the season and that cannot be acceptable. The Magic have to take advantage of these last opportunities and continue to grow.

Coach Jamahl Mosley has talked about the team trying to learn and grow with each game. He has tried to keep the team’s spirit and energy up. And Orlando still has its moments.

The team needs to still take these moments and these games as opportunities to get better. There is still something to learn. And something to gain.

"“You’ve got to keep improving,” Moe Wagner said after Sunday’s loss. “This league is not waiting for anyone. I always tell myself, if you were to play in the playoffs, this would be the time to be at your peak. Fatigue and all that stuff doesn’t really matter because this is when the season really starts. And we want to get there.”"

This is not something anyone can lose. Even if the Playoffs are out of reach, this is the time for players to get those reps mentally. There are plenty of players who are facing contract decisions.

That clock is ticking. And it is easy to see who is feeling that pressure and rising to it rather than looking ahead to the end of the season.

There is still a lot to play for, even if it is making a final statement before the offseason.

Wagner has continued a standout season. He scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds on 7-for-10 shooting, attacking the offensive glass with a putback dunk and running with Markelle Fultz throughout the game.

As his minutes have increased, Wagner has turned in some stellar games. He is a player with flaws, but he has provided good energy and good shooting to this team.

"“You do appreciate that energy and effort from him,” Mosley said after Sunday’s game. “That’s what we’re asking from all of our guys. No matter what’s going on in the game that you play with a level of intensity, you play with a level of effort no matter what’s happening. Moe does that on a nightly basis just continuing to play hard.”"

Wagner is playing to get the final year of his contract guaranteed. He certainly seems like he has carved a place somewhere. He wants to have a strong finish to the season.

The team is hoping that energy can be infectious to end the season.

Similarly, Fultz has done a good job making the most of his time on the floor. As Fultz puts it, he just feels blessed to be on the floor.

Fultz scored 11 points and dished out six assists on 4-for-8 shooting in a season-high 21:56 (nearly 22 minutes!). The Magic were at their best with Fultz on the floor as he continues to burst at the seams of his minute restriction.

Fultz is certainly a special case for this Magic team as the season winds down. Orlando just wants to get him out there and have him play.

But this game did not have enough of these players trying to make their mark. Not in a way that mattered.

The Knicks dominated the game early and the Magic stayed close thanks to the burst from Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross off the bench. Then the Knicks pushed the lead back out and then dominated the third quarter as the team lost complete interest.

Sure, Wendell Carter (sprained wrist), Franz Wagner (sprained ankle) and Jalen Suggs (ankle injury) are all out with fairly minor injuries. Cole Anthony left Sunday’s game after 2.5 minutes as he dealt with a sprained toe.  Orlando was not likely going to win this game.

But the team still needed a better start and effort from some key players.

The whole starting group the last few games have seemingly played without much direction. Really, it is any lineup that does not have Fultz at this point that just does not have that spark.

That is really the problem with how the Magic are finishing this season. It is not about the results. It is about the direction and purpose in which the team plays.

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The team has been about development and getting better every day. And there are plenty of signs the team has done that.

"“I think you’re going to learn in any situation or any circumstance,” Mosley said after Sunday’s game. “We’re going to continue to preach the same thing to these young men. They are going to continue to work and learn. Like we work every single day and compete every single night and just find ways to get better.”"

But this last week has seen the team let off on that. The team has seemingly not played with the same focus and intensity throughout. The Magic are not playing with the same attention to detail and focus that had built their defense up for the second half of the season.

Nobody expects the team to play at the same level with so many players out. But, at the same time, the Magic want to be about something. They want to carve their identity. And that should be something that exists no matter who is in or out.

Orlando has only three games left. The results of those games are not likely to matter. It is not likely too that anyone can change any long-term opinions off of these games esepcially.

But the Magic still have to be about something. These games still present an opportunity for players to make their final statement. That still has to count for something.

Next. Devin Cannady comes all the way back for Orlando Magic. dark

If there is any goal, it is at least to make that statement and give teammates a chance to shine with the opportunity they are given.