Orlando Magic’s postseason chase hurt by ill-timed suspensions

Moe Wagner's suspension and the subsequent absences for players leaving the bench has put the Orlando Magic in a bind. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Moe Wagner's suspension and the subsequent absences for players leaving the bench has put the Orlando Magic in a bind. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner said he and his teammates knew there might be a penalty for their leaving the bench when Moe Wagner seemed enveloped by the Detroit Pistons bench in the second quarter of Wednesday’s game. But the team wanted to back their teammate while he was in “enemy territory” directly in front of the other team’s bench.

Franz Wagner said he did not want his teammate — and brother — alone right in front of the other team. Had the incident happened at midcourt, Magic teammates would not have rushed over as quickly as they did to try to separate their teammate from the situation.

And it was bad, with Moe Wagner possibly even looking out on his feet. The team should be applauded for the instinct to defend their brother and make sure he was safe.

But there are consequences to these actions. Intention does not matter when teh rule book is pretty clear. And the Magic are going to pay the consequences for this loyalty instinct.

Nine players for the Orlando Magic will miss at least one game in the next two outings thanks to the incident that occurred during Wednesday’s loss.

Moe Wagner had shoved Killian Hayes into the Pistons’ bench as he tried to usher the ball out of bounds and avoid a backcourt violation. Hamidou Diallo proceeded to retaliate shoving Moe Wagner into the Pistons’ bench. Hayes got up and gave Wagner a punch to the back of his neck.

From there it was pandemonium.

Every player on the floor at the time was in the mass of people trying to separate the offending parties. Almost every player on the Magic’s bench ran over too, trying to get the parties separated and ending up in a bigger shoving match.

When all was said and done Wagner, Hayes and Diallo were ejected from the game. The Magic were down 17 at the time and lost 121-101. That was not the ultimate outcome of the game.

The suspensions that were sure to follow would be the lasting impact of it.

Late Thursday night, the Magic found out who will officially miss their next two games considering everyone aside from Terrence Ross left the bench area.

The NBA suspended Moe Wagner for two games for his role in the incident. Hayes was suspended for three games and Diallo one. Those suspensions were expected as the primary actors in the incident.

The league’s rule of automatically suspending any player that leaves the bench area for one game left a lot of questions about how the Magic would be able to field a team. The league implemented a rule after the big fight between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat in the 1997 playoffs suspending players in alphabetical order to ensure that the team will have eight players available.

So the Magic’s suspensions for the next two games will be:

Cole Anthony, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter, R.J. Hampton and Gary Harris will be suspended for Friday’s game against the Washington Wizards. And Kevon Harris, Admiral Schofield and Franz Wagner will be suspended for Wednesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Immediately that leaves an imbalanced roster for these two games.

The stability the Magic likely wanted to establish and build before their West Coast road trip is going to get put on the back burner.

So for Friday night, here is what the Magic’s lineup will look like:

Markelle FultzCaleb HoustanFranz WagnerPaolo BancheroBol Bol
Kevon HarrisTerrence RossAdmiral Schofield

Friday night, the Magic will be working with just one point guard and one center available. That will likely mean we will see a return to minutes for Franz Wagner playing the point and see some Paolo Banchero at center.

That could lead to some inventiveness and experimenting the Magic have not otherwise had the chance to try. There is something to that and everything is an opportunity. But this will be a tall task for this team with the players available.

Wednesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder will see a bit better balance for the roster:

Markelle FultzGary HarrisPaolo BancheroBol BolWendell Carter
Cole AnthonyCaleb HoustanTerrence RossMo Bamba
R.J. Hampton

At least there the Magic will be able to field a more functional lineup. And have a point guard on the floor at all times.

But that gets to the larger point and the missed opportunity the Magic are facing — especially now that these suspensions will last over two games.

This run of games that started with last Wednesday’s game against the Houston Rockets was supposed to be an opportunity for the Magic to bank up some wins and build momentum.

The team had come through one of the harder parts of its schedule streaking and playing with a ton of confidence. Yes, re-integrating Carter and Harris was going to provide a challenge. But the level of opponents the Magic were facing would have given them some grace.

They certainly took that in a dominant fourth quarter to defeat the San Antonio Spurs. But the Orlando Magic looked unfocused in losses to the Los Angels Lakers and Detroit Pistons.

Now the team will spend the two games against teams with losing records of this three-game homestand before the team heads out West trying to duct tape a rotation together. They still have to find a way to win — especially Friday’s game against a direct competitor for one of those precious Play-In spots.

Maybe the Magic need the challenge the next month will provide to properly focus.

This is a young team still prone to playing up and down to its competition. That much has become clear with how much the Magic have struggled even dating back to that win over the Rockets.

Still, the Magic need all the wins they can get. And the schedule was set up for their success.

To be 2-2 in a stretch of six straight games against teams with losing records is disappointing. Orlando may not have expected to win all those games. But especially with this mini three-game stretch, it felt like a time to cement the team’s spot in the chase.

The Eastern Conference will do its best to keep the Magic in the postseason chase. Even with this two-game losing streak, Orlando sits three games out of the 10th seed. There is still a lot of time to right the ship and this is just another two games to manage.

The Magic still have the capability to win these games. But the team will have to delay its process of integrating injured players. If there was a plan to bring Jonathan Isaac back into the rotation, that may be harder to justify with just eight or nine players available considering the minute restriction he will surely be on.

It is just all a missed opportunity for a young team to build confidence and continue its growth and education on how to win.

But that is the lesson of all of this. Even in a heated situation, the Magic need to keep their heads and keep the big picture in mind. Every game is going to count and have meaning if the postseason remains a goal.

Next. Orlando Magic believe they have a brand of basketball. dark

And this is a missed opportunity that may hurt unless the Magic surprise.