Orlando Magic’s difference between winning and losing is one more play

Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner continues to impress with the leaps he has made. But the Magic remain a play short of a victory. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner continues to impress with the leaps he has made. But the Magic remain a play short of a victory. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

114. 100. Final. 113. 38

The Orlando Magic are not upset with the final play of Saturday’s 114-113 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

To them, it was a perfectly executed play. The only difference between the shot Franz Wagner took and the one Jalen Suggs took Friday night against the Chicago Bulls is that Suggs’ shot went in and Wagner’s shot did not.

The feelings after a made or missed shot are completely different, even if the games require the same analysis and breakdown. A celebration from Friday has turned to a search for answers once again Saturday.

Suggs played his possession perfectly to create space and hit a step-back three with four seconds left in the game. So too did Wagner at the end of Saturday’s game.

The Magic came out of the timeout down one point after Aaron Nesmith made a pair of free throws — no such luck of uncharacteristic missed free throws on back-to-back nights — and design a fantastic set to play to Franz Wagner’s strengths.

Jalen Suggs inbounded to Bol Bol near the top of the key. He flipped it to Wagner on a spring from beyond the mid-court line going to the basket. The play gave Wagner a step on his defender and a path to the basket. He flipped a shot high off the backboard.

But it fell no good. Mo Bamba could not track the rebound and the Pacers dug out the rebound and avoided fouls to run out the clock.

That is the ball game. The difference in that moment was one more play.

The Orlando Magic play a fell short as they now search for a way to get over the hump and cure their late-game woes to break through. It really does come down to singular plays and moments.

That realization may gnaw at the team more than anything else. That one more play. Because so often for the Magic this year, it has come down to one play. One little thing that separates the team from wins and losses.

Orlando this year is 3-9 in clutch situations (defined as any game within five points in the final five minutes). Those 12 games are tied for the most in the entire league to this point. Nine of the Magic’s 12 losses have come with the game extremely tight (in addition to three of the team’s five wins).

It all says the Magic are just as easily 8-9 as they are at their current record of 5-12. The margins are really that close between a team that is in the Play-In hunt and looking for more and a team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

If there is frustration both internally within the franchise and externally among fans, it is in the realization of how close this team might well be from turning things around. The changes that have to happen really come down to a few plays here and there — it is no longer six-minute stretches like it might have been last year.

And considering how undermanned this team, the fight the Magic put up in Indianapolis on the second night of a back-to-back was indeed impressive and a positive sign.

"“I think it shows the character that everybody has on the team,” Wagner said after Saturday’s loss. “It shows how we want to play and what we want to be about. A lot of guys stepped up tonight. It’s the next-man mentality. It was good to see everybody was ready and we competed as a group.”"

This is a good starting point. That is growth, but nominal growth.

The results are still seemingly the same as last year’s pure development year. The Magic want to be so much more.

What are these decisions then that are costing the team game? What are these plays?

It can be something as granular as digging out a rebound at the right time.

The Pacers took the lead for good thanks to Nesmith beating Bol and Bamba to the rebound before drawing a foul to make the game-winning free throws.

These are always part of the details the Magic seem to be missing that has put them in the hole and kept them from winning.

The Magic might be 11th in the league in defensive rebound rate, but it feels like they give up critical rebounds. They are not such a good rebounding team that they do not get beat at times — especially with Wendell Carter out and especially with all the switching the team does that draws their bigs out of the paint.

It is the details and plays like that which can tip a game.

Orlando has had its issues with turnovers this season and got plenty loose with the ball even in Saturday’s game. But they largely were dead-ball turnovers that did not result in points. For the first time in a while, the Magic did not turn the ball over excessively.

Instead, the missing plays seemed to be shot decisions and their aggression overall to stick with the ball movement and attacking that works to build the team’s leads.

Toward the end of the game, it was Franz Wagner taking a heat check three with 25.4 seconds left after draining back-to-back threes. It was a point in the game where Orlando needed to bleed some clock and get a good shot. Wagner was the right shooter, but he took the wrong shot.

Chalk this up as a young player taking the winning shots for the first time in his young career. Wagner had the full trust of the team. He knows as much as anyone that this was a bad shot.

But it was emblematic of the moments that came before it too. The Magic scored 24 points in the paint in the first half but just 12 in the second. Orlando struggled to attack the basket with much consistency and did not get to the foul line as often as this team needs to play this style.

The team’s offense gets stagnant when the ball does not move and that was the case throughout the second half. Orlando had just four assists in the second half as the team struggled to get itself unstuck throughout the half.

This is what allowed the Pacers to cut into their lead and eventually take a lead of their own.

The Magic too let off the gas it seems at the end of the first and second quarters when they looked like they were grabbing a firm grip on the game. Tyrese Haliburton hit buzzer-beating threes in both quarters, including one from halfcourt just before halftime. Finishing quarters is another sure thing to winning games.

The Magic have the fight down to keep grinding and compete to get themselves back in the game. They certainly have the talent for that even with how depleted the team is.

"“I’m so proud of these guys,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday’s loss. “The way that they play. The way that they battle. The way that they never stop fighting and competing night in and night out. I’m so proud of what these guys have done.”"

There was plenty of fight. That has never been in question with this group.

But all these plays add up. And they may not matter as much when the team comes out on top. Lessons are always learned best in wins.

But in losses that come down to these final possessions, everything needs to get dissected. The Magic need to find that last play they need that last play to get over the top.

It clearly does not take much for the Magic to change their fortunes. But something is missing this team needs to start turning these defeats into victories.

Next. Orlando Magic take advantage of opportunity to grow. dark

They need that last play to get over the top.