Orlando Magic should expect more while waiting for more

The Orlando Magic have been tantalizingly close so many times. But their frustration of being shorthanded is starting to emerge more visibly. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic have been tantalizingly close so many times. But their frustration of being shorthanded is starting to emerge more visibly. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The frustration from the Orlando Magic is visible on their faces.

Whenever coach Jamahl Mosley is asked what makes Franz Wagner so special, he usually points to his basketball IQ and then his competitive edge. It is this latter point that has Wagner exceedingly expressive during games and seemingly sullen after games.

The weight of carrying an injured team and the competitive fire to expect to win them is clear with him. He is doing all he can and he wants to do more. He expects to do more.

Wagner was not sweating missing his potentially game-winning layup at the end of Saturday’s game, but you could also tell there was a bit of frustration in how these games have gone.

Orlando is now 3-9 in close games, showing how tantalizingly close the team is to that breakthrough and just how competitive the game can be. But it also signals how far the team has yet to go.

Even the usually strait-laced Mosley has opened up some about the frustration seething beneath the surface and the difficult balance he and this team have had to endure.

Orlando has had to play on both sides of the fence: Playing with the expectation to win and understanding what it takes to win on a night-in and night-out basis. But also understanding that the team is playing severely undermanned.

They can say “next man up” as much as they want but the depth is clearly not there. There is only so much the team can do.

The Orlando Magic’s frustration from being close but being so undermanned is evident more and more. The team is clearly capable of more but they need to stay positive as they wait for injuries to heal.

But there is much more the team can do.

The team has still made repeated mistakes and turnovers that cost them games. They still make some poor late-game decisions that hurt their chances at wins.

The team knows injured players will help but it is still unclear when everyone will return. It leaves the Magic trying to make the best with the group they have. The question is whether they can.

The Magic clearly have much more in reserve. And the injured player list appears set to decrease in the coming weeks — Gary Harris is already back in the lineup and it seems that lots of other players are inching closer to a return with batches of home games coming up throughout December.

But injuries cannot be an excuse even if it is a big reason the team is struggling to play consistently.

That has proven to be a difficult balance. Mosley is trying to keep his team optimistic and together through all of this. He expressed after Saturday’s loss how proud he was of his team for fighting.

The team does not want to be about just doing the “good fight” and playing hard through 48 minutes. That much is expected.

But it is still hard to ignore how scrappy this team is despite missing a full lineup’s worth of rotation-level players as the Magic again lead the league in games lost to injury.

Mosley previously mentioned following Wednesday’s game how frustrating it is knowing there are so many players out. It was the first time anyone had so openly mentioned how much injuries have hampered this team.

The Magic are a team that is clearly undermanned.

The team’s injury management as Wendell Carter deals with a lingering plantar fascia strain had their starting center play Friday night in Chicago but miss Saturday night in Indianapolis. He likely will be day-to-day for the time being — and eyeing a three-day break between Monday’s game against the Indiana Pacers and Friday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers to get extra treatment, rest and recovery.

Any time a team has to run out Admiral Schofield as its backup center, something has probably gone wrong. So much of this season has been stuck together with glue and duct tape with a young coach trying to foster learning and put players in roles they will ultimately play with a healthy team while also experimenting with lineups and player combinations while also still trying to put the team in a position to win.

In some respects, the Magic have been successful considering how competitive the team has been despite this. Orlando has played clutch minutes — games within five points in the final five minutes — in 12 of their 17 games. Those 12 clutch games are tied for the most in the league.

If Orlando can take some solace in that, it is that the team has done this without a true point guard and seemingly adding Markelle Fultz to the mix could help organize the team late in games.

Further, these are the miscues of a young team that does not know how to win. These experiences are chances for the team to learn and grow.

Of course, they have to make good on that experience and actually improve when they are presented with those opportunities. That part has been the struggle. And Mosley’s real test as a coach is to keep the team together and believing as they weather this storm.

That perhaps has been the most disappointing part. Many of the Magic’s games come down to the same problems — turnovers and inconsistent execution at key moments. But they also come down to depth and the bench units and rotations Mosley has had to put together.

Mosley said after Saturday’s loss that he is still putting together rotations and lineups as he tries to manage the workload he puts on his key players. The Magic are still trying to do some injury prevention even as they try to get through these games. And he has precious few options that he can rely on — thus Schofield lining up at center.

It is always one thing on one hand and another thing on the other.

There is clear disappointment that this team is not winning more. That frustration is a sure sign the team has “leveled up” as its coach expects. The expectations and standards have risen and Orlando has struggled to meet them.

But on the other hand, the coaching staff knows what is missing and what is in reserve. They know and are trying to keep belief in the things that are going well knowing that relief may be coming soon.

The Magic have not seen what even a relatively healthy roster looks like. It is hard to evaluate and say anything final without that.

And so the Magic are left wanting more as they should. But also knowing more is in reserve and preparing to return. It is still early enough in the season — the Magic are just a meager 2.5 games out of the final Play-In spot — that everything could click into place and help this team quickly move up the standings.

The team is certainly not nearly as panicked as some fans might be. But they are still just as frustrated. Even if it is tempered with the hope of health coming soon.

Next. 3 thoughts on the Orlando Magic's humbling homestand. dark

Until then, this group has to continue to expect more of itself and hope that it can be enough to establish a strong base for the returns that are expected to come.