Orlando Magic have to fight for 48 minutes through mounting injuries

Jalen Suggs showed his toughness returning from a rolled ankle to help spark the Orlando Magic as they try to navigate and fight through their injuries. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs showed his toughness returning from a rolled ankle to help spark the Orlando Magic as they try to navigate and fight through their injuries. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

86. 108. 38. Final. 126

Jalen Suggs by all rights should not have been on the floor.

Early in the third quarter he came down on Mo Bamba’s foot and appeared to roll his ankle. he went down and back a few times clearly hobbling before a dead ball finally got him to the bench. He tried retying and tightening his shoes before heading back to the locker room, seemingly adding to a long and growing list of injured Magic players.

Suggs returned though late in the third quarter. And almost immediately provided a spark by burying a 3-pointer.

What once looked like an insurmountable 27-point deficit started to become seemingly more manageable. It dropped down to 19 when Suggs hit a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left. The Magic, suddenly energized, dug out a steal and started a fast break on the next possession. Suggs got to the basket and got clobbered in the face, leading to a flagrant foul and an ejection for Taurean Prince. A Magic crowd needing something to energize it found the energy.

The push continued into the fourth quarter.

Suggs, still clearly hobbling a bit, dropped the deficit to single digits, draining a three and picking up the foul. It suddenly felt like the Magic were in it with this skeleton crew of players.

The Orlando Magic continue to show tons of fight in the face of mounting and piling injuries. But that fight is not enough as the team struggles to put together a full 48 minutes.

They gained some measure of inspiration from their sophomore guard getting back on the floor and making plays to re-energize the team. It was a sign of the fight the team is trying to put on display — and perhaps proof that the guys who are injured really are that hurt if Suggs can hobble his way back into the game.

"“I’m not missing no more games if I don’t have to,” Suggs said after Wednesday’s game. “I just hope they understand I will do whatever it takes to be out on that floor with them to help make impact and help our team get in the right direction and win. No matter how banged up, no matter how bruised, it’s a physical game, it’s a physical sport. . . . You either hit back and embrac eit or roll over and fold. i don’t think myself or anyone on this roster has that mindset. That’s not how we roll. I hope I showed that.”"

The Magic certainly fought back and Suggs’ return changed the tenor of the game. It brought Orlando back into it and gave them a glimmer of hope. It was a sign this team can fight and claw their way back.

But this is not the thing the Magic want to celebrate anymore.

Franz Wagner said that plainly after Monday’s loss when the Orlando Magic kept clawing their way back to lose what looked like a blowout to the Charlotte Hornets by only seven points. They feel they are past the point of celebrating these little victories, as important as they might be in building to the bigger things.

They want the bigger things.

Even with the growing list of injuries the team is facing, Orlando wants to show the fight capable of winning games. And the last two outings especially, the Magic have just struggled to bring the right focus and intensity from the tip.

That is how the Minnesota Timberwolves coasted to a 126-108 victory at the Amway Center on Wednesday despite some nervy moments when the Orlando Magic fought back in the fourth quarter.

"“I think they just came out a lot more aggressive,” Bol Bol said after Wednesday’s game. “We just started off very slow. They were just playing way more aggressive from the start.”"

The Magic found themselves down 11 midway through the first quarter with Anthony Edwards finishing the first quarter with 19 points and five 3-pointers. Again, Orlando was climbing uphill. Turnovers and poor defensive intensity and execution made that hole even bigger, putting the Timberwolves up by as much as 27.

It was exactly the same thing that happened in Monday’s loss. The Magic were put on their back foot and left staggering, seeking anything to stabilize the team.

The team responded but it was clearly not enough. Orlando trailed by 18 after one quarter and lost the game by 18, breaking even after that rough start.

"“I think effort is the main thing,” Suggs said after Wednesday’s game. “The previous night we got hit in the mouth early and kind of allowed them to dictate the pace and dictate how the game was going to be played that night. I think especially early tonight we did the same thing. We showe dfight in the second half. We showed grit and toughness. This is a great league. We’re playing against great players, great coaches and great schemes. You have to bring it for both halves.”"

The reality is that it is much tougher to get there though. Orlando is dealing with a growing list of injuries that has put the team deeper and deeper into a hole, narrowing its margin for error and its depth.

It is not just the usual five players — Moe Wagner, Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Gary Harris and Cole Anthony — anymore.

It is now Paolo Banchero, who missed his fourth straight game with a sprained left ankle. And it is now Wendell Carter, whom Jamahl Mosley said had been dealing with a foot injury for several games prior to missing Wednesday’s game with a right plantar fascia strain.

The team knows it needs to play better from the tip. They continue to use the well-worn cliche of “next man up” and do not want to use injuries as an excuse. But it is getting harder and harder to ignore just how much injuries are keeping this team from its true potential and finding answers.

"“I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t frustrating,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday’s game. “I understand it. Our guys are willing to step into the moment and do the right thing. They are going to play their positions and their moments. But obviously maneuvering through it is not easy. But our guys will bounce back and we’ll get some work in and move from there.”"

Most teams are not dealing with a full rotation of rotation-level players sitting out. And then holding their breath when Mo Bamba leaves the game holding his side (he would return) and then Jalen Suggs dealing with a sprained ankle.

Winning might be harder down key rotation players, but winning is still possible. The Orlando Magic proved that in beating both the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns last week without Paolo Banchero.

Someone has just got to step up. The team has got to step up. Despite the frustration.

That may be the toughest challenge for this team at the moment.

"“I think it’s on us,” Suggs said after Wednesday’s game. “No matter the lineup. No matter who’s in, who’s out, what’s going on, who’s feeling banged up, we’ve got to come out here and play each night. For the past two nights we haven’t done that and these are the results.”"

The Magic clearly believe they can still produce results despite the injuries massing against them. It is tougher clearly because of all the players who are absent.

The team has continually proven it can and will fight to claw back into games. It may find itself late, but it does find itself eventually. The Magic are not fracturing and fighting together.

Next. Jalen Suggs still pushing for control of his play. dark

But as good as those things are, that is not enough. Orlando likes the team’s fight. But that is not the end goal. Even with injuries, the Magic are still searching for their way.