Orlando Magic believe they have a brand of basketball to play

The Orlando Magic have come together to find their way to play. None of it was on display Tuesday. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic have come together to find their way to play. None of it was on display Tuesday. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

For the last two weeks, all anyone has been able to talk about with the Orlando Magic is the seeming inevitability of their ascent.

Their stretch of winning eight of the past nine games seemed to bolster the views that this young Orlando team was putting its pieces together and turning a corner. Dreams of the postseason suddenly became not just a distant destination but something that could be coming in the very near future.

They did this by establishing a clear way to play. They developed their identity.

The Orlando Magic spent their win streak establishing their way to play. Tuesday night they gave a stark reminder of how easily it could all slip away.

Their defense was aggressive, often blitzing screens and using their length to terrorize teams with early help along the baseline and in the paint and then quick closeouts. There was some 3-point luck in there, but the Magic were a terror to deal with.

From there, they peeled out quickly with anyone able to bring the ball up the court and start the break and the offense. The Magic are an aggressive rim-attacking team and get to the foul line a ton. What has changed offensively is the team’s ability to create fast-break opportunities and work inside out.

Everything was falling into place and the team’s potential was abundantly clear. When one part of the team struggled, another lifted it up. The Magic looked like a team that could make a postseason push.

In the team’s past 10 games (including Tuesday’s loss), the Magic rank seventh in offensive rating at 116.5 points per 100 possessions and sixth in defensive rating at 111.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. The team is 11th in the league over their past 10 games with a 37.9-percent 3-point shooting percentage.

A lot of things were working for the Magic. They moved the ball inside-out, they played with pace, force and push and they rallied together defensively.

This is Magic basketball.

Then Tuesday happened. A 129-110 shellacking by the Los Angeles Lakers.

The team looked out of sorts and passive. The Lakers were the aggressors from the start playing with more energy, intensity and urgency. The Magic were staggered, unable to use their length in any way and passively letting the Lakers shoot threes.

That is usually a good strategy against a team like the Lakers that struggles to shoot. But early shooting success took the Magic’s aggression out of them. And soon Los Angeles was attacking the rim without much impunity.

The Lakers shot 54.4 percent from the floor and made 17 of 43 3-point attempts (39.5 percent). They outscored the Magic 56-44 in the paint.

In other words, this was not Magic basketball. Not in the least.

"“I would say it was flat just all around,” Markelle Fultz said of the team’s energy after Tuesday’s game. “We weren’t playing Magic basketball at the end of the day. I don’t know exactly what it was we never had our pop, our energy or our togetherness. That’s something not only myself but we all pride ourselves on. We have to find it for the next game.”"

Fultz added the team was not locked into its gameplan. And that lack of energy defensively really fed the lack of energy and precision elsewhere for the team.

Defense has been the biggest catalyst for the Magic during this run. And the Magic’s inability to lock up the Lakers’ attack to the paint or properly contest their 3-point shooting only added to the problems in transition when the Magic went through that cold spurt in the first half that staked the Lakers their lead.

And with a team that is just as likely to lose nine games in a row as they are to burn off eight of their next nine out of that losing streak. There is always the concern the team will backslide.

That is why it is easy to view the Magic’s loss to the Lakers as a potential learning moment and a crucial point for this young team.

"“This is a young team and this is a lesson to learn, understanding you have to hang your hat on the defensive end of the floor no matter what is happening,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday’s game. “We’ve talked about that in shootarounds and film sessions. We understand that. That is obviously the experience you have to go through. You have to give the Lakers a ton of credit for what they did. Put their head down in transition, attacked the basket and disrupted us.”"

Especially with a seemingly winnable game against the Detroit Pistons coming the very next night and two more games after that against solid teams but teams with losing records in the Washington Wizards and Oklahoma City Thunder before preparing for the Memphis Grizzlies and the first big West Coast road trip after that.

This was the perfect part of the season and for this team to cement who it is and its way to play. That is what the team was doing before Tuesday’s game.

And this is the biggest question for this young Magic team. It has always been the biggest question for this young team: How do they respond to adversity and how do they build consistency?

The Magic have not proven who they are yet. But they have started to establish their way to play and their formula to success.

Next. Franz Wagner's back to earth is still over the moon. dark

Now the team has to learn to repeat that over and over again.