Orlando Magic are showing the poise to win the fourth quarter

Franz Wagner poured in 15 points in the fourth quarter of the Orlando Magic's win over the Portland Trail Blazers as he establishes his fourth quarter bona fides. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner poured in 15 points in the fourth quarter of the Orlando Magic's win over the Portland Trail Blazers as he establishes his fourth quarter bona fides. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic were teetering again entering the fourth quarter.

They saw a double-digit lead completely erased in the second quarter to head to the locker room tied at 50 against the Portland Trail Blazers. They had rebuilt that lead with a focused 15-0 run to start the third quarter. But Portland was carving into that lead again.

How much longer could Orlando absorb these punches?

That is the thing about this Magic team. They are not the young teams that came before them. The team might still make mistakes, but they have shown plenty of resilience to bounce back from them. That might be the biggest difference for this team.

And that is shown in nowhere greater than the fourth quarter. The winning time for a young team trying to carve its place.

The Orlando Magic are showing more and more their ability to play well in the fourth quarter and even to close out games as this young team continues to build and get better.

The Magic are still a young team prone to mistakes. But the team is showing more and more poise and more and more ability to win games. The team is 11-6 since snapping its nine-game losing streak in early December. Winning, quite simply, has become more commonplace.

And a lot of that has to do with the team’s fourth-quarter and clutch performances.

For the entire season, the Magic are 26th in the league in net rating in the fourth quarter at -3.6 points per 100 possessions (110.9/114.5 split).

But since Dec. 7, when the team ended its nine-game losing streak, the Magic are +11.7 net rating. They are fifth in offensive rating at 120.6 points per 100 possessions and seventh in defensive rating at 108.9 points allowed per 100 possessions.

That is a big reason the team has started winning games. They are finishing games strong.

But this is not simply about winning the fourth quarter and playing better in the fourth quarter — there have been plenty of blowouts like Monday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings where the team was out of the game and put together good fourth quarters.

The storyline in the early part of the season was the Magic’s poor play in clutch situations. Orlando for the season overall is 8-13 in clutch situations with an overall net rating of -14.3 points per 100 possessions (104.3/118.6 split). That is 24th in the league.

This is not a team for the full season at least that is good late in games.

But since ending the losing streak in early December, the Magic are 5-1 in clutch situations — they are 11-6 overall in that 17-game stretch. Orlando is second in the league in net rating in these clutch situations during this time at +39.6 points per 100 possessions. Their split of 120.4 points per 100 possessions against 80.8 points allowed per 100 possessions is incredible.

It is also an incredibly small sample size. The team is playing far fewer close games than they did earlier in the season when they were struggling to get over the hump. The team has had more games decided earlier in both directions.

Still, this is a sign of how much the team has grown. And continuing to show this maturity late in games will help the team in its nascent postseason push.

That was on full display in the Orlando Magic’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday as they closed the Blazers out in a sometimes nervy finish — the Magic are still perhaps a bit miffed by the phantom call the NBA confirmed that helped Damian Lillard cut the lead to one and the Magic scrambled extremely well to force a miss on three 3-pointers to close the game.

That is shown nowhere greater than in Franz Wagner’s poise to attack the paint and keep the team afloat. Wagner scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter on a variety of drives and pull-ups. He kept the Magic in the lead even as the Blazers made their push to get back into the lead.

Someone has to step up and make shots and that is increasingly coming from Wagner. Wagner has become the Magic’s de facto closer this year. Certainly lately.

Wagner is 15th in the league in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging 6.8 points per game and shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 45.6 percent from deep. The numbers back up that Wagner ups his scoring in the fourth quarter — even if there is some stat padding in the process.

Wagner has become a dominant attacker this year overall. According to data from Basketball Index, Wagner ranks in the 87th percentile in rim shot creation, in the 96th percentile in rim shot making and in the 96th percentile in finishing talent. All while he in the 94th percentile in adjusted drives per game and in the 16th percentile in rim shot quality.

Wagner is getting to the basket more and more — and getting to the line more and more — and finishing tough shots on the regular.

"“He constantly understands his role in certain situations, knowing when he can attack the rim or understanding the switches,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday’s win over the Blazers. “He did a great job communicating on the floor with those guys with the different situations that he saw. His teammates trust him to make those big plays and big moments because he is going to try to make the right play.”"

In clutch situations, Wagner is fourth on the team averaging 1.8 points per game in clutch situations and second on the team in overall points with 38 points, trailing only Paolo Banchero. Wagner is shooting 15 for 40 from the floor and 4 for 18 from beyond the arc in 21 clutch appearances.

Since Dec. 7, Wagner has scored 14 points in clutch situations while shooting 6 for 16 from the floor and 2 for 8 from deep. Banchero leads the team with 28 total points and 5-for-11 shooting and 17-for-20 shooting from the foul line.

There are clearly some things the Magic still need to improve.

As Tuesday’s game showed, the Magic’s late-game execution still leaves something to be desired. The Blazers were able to blitz the Magic successfully and get the all out of both Wagner and Banchero’s hands forcing them into difficult shots with the clock winding down.

Orlando adjusted some by putting the ball in Markelle Fultz’s hands more to organize the team. But it was still a rough finish.

Despite this meager success, there are still clearly things for the Magic to work on. Orlando will still have to do better executing down the stretch. But the Magic are starting to show hints of what they can be as a team in all facets. That includes finishing games at the end.

Next. Jonathan Isaac is stellar in long-awaited return. dark

Orlando is starting to be far more consistent at the end of games and far better closing games. That has helped the team continue to turn things around and will remain a major factor for the team as it continues to grow this season.