Orlando Magic find their resiliency, hunger on the road

Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic returned from their West Coast trip having tested their resilience and clearly hungry to keep winning. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic returned from their West Coast trip having tested their resilience and clearly hungry to keep winning. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic had every reason to look ahead to the end of their road trip after falling behind by 15 against the Denver Nuggets. More than that, the fatigue of a five-game, 10-day trip and the altitude they were playing at in Denver (after the trip over from mountainous Salt Lake City) was going to wear on the team.

With two wins already on the road trip — a moderate success — it would have been easy to pack it in.

That is not who this Magic team is, or at least who they want to be. They are not a team that is going quietly into the night and are making sure opponents know they have to play the full 48 minutes. Orlando, as every young, improving team does, says it wants opponents to know it has faced the Magic.

The Orlando Magic returned from their road trip with a 2-3 record. But the team came home understanding what more it will take to win and just how close they might be to breaking through.

Of course, the lesson from the end of this road trip for the Magic was how narrow that line is between wins and losses.

It could be giving up an offensive rebound on a free throw as it was in the loss to the Utah Jazz or it could be a step-back 3-pointer as it was in the narrow defeat to the Denver Nuggets.

The Magic are still getting the finer points of closing games. But they discovered a lot about themselves in a 2-3 road trip. They discovered their resilience — enough to erase 12-point fourth-quarter deficits in Utah and Denver — and they discovered how critical consistency is to their eventual success.

This Magic team has clearly made some significant progress. But they also clearly still have some ways to go.

"“There’s still a lot on the table,” Markelle Fultz said after practice Wednesday. “You definitely feel good. We felt we should have been 4-1. Other than the [Sacramento Kings] game we felt we gave ourselves a pretty good chance to win the game. It’s positive. We take the good things coming back and we have guys who are continuing to get healthy and coming back is super exciting. I think that’s what we’re starting to understand right now.”"

The Magic’s record on this trip is probably not that impressive in the grand scheme of things.

Orlando had late leads the team frittered away in the two concluding losses to Utah and Denver. The Orlando Magic too had to scramble to preserve their lead and avoid overtime in the narrow win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Then there is the blowout loss to the Sacramento Kings where they gave up a Kings’ franchise record 23 3-pointers just two days after one of the Orlando Magic’s most impressive defensive performances of the year in a win over the Golden State Warriors. That loss to Sacramento stuck out like a sore thumb to everyone from what was largely an encouraging road trip.

Wendell Carter said the team has been good about communicating and holding each other accountable to recover from rough losses and making sure mistakes do not repeat. That is what happened as the team responded from that rough loss to Sacramento to be in control and win in Portland the following night.

But the thing the team lacked was the consistency to win. So while Orlando showed its resiliency and ability to fight to make those games close or to gut out their two wins on the trip, the team still showed it is trying to build itself up more consistently.

"“I think we were able to build off of something,” Wendell Carter said after practice Wednesday. “I think our thing was being resilient. We went down a lot of these games late and it came down to one shot. We stuck to what the game plan was going into these games. Win, lose or draw, I felt like we did what was asked of us from the coaching staff. At the end of the day, that’s all we can do.”"

Slowly but surely the Magic are getting healthier and it has shown in how they play and how much more consistently the team is winning.

The residuals of the win streak have worn off — Orlando is just 5-8 since the win streak ended. But the real effect of that streak is the hunger it has left in the team to win more consistently now that they know they can do it.

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The West Coast trip showed how much this team can fight to give itself a chance to win. But there is still something more this team needs to do to get all the way there.

That is something Orlando hopes to discover at home as the team gets settled in once again.

"“I don’t think anybody on the team is OK,” Fultz said after practice Wednesday. “Especially after getting a taste of the six[-game] win streak that we went on and all the winning that we have been doing. I think guys have the belief of winning and knowing that we have what it takes to win. It’s trying not to make the same mistakes and not letting our head get down when teams go on runs or we lose a lead. It’s about being composed and learning exactly it’s going to be a game of runs. We’ve just got to keep fighting to the end. As long as we do that, we give ourselves a chance.”"

The Magic are certainly still carving their identity.

Their defense has looked impressive for long stretches — their comebacks in Salt Lake City and Denver do not happen without some stellar defense. But it has not all come together.

The Magic are a tough out. That much should be clear. Orlando is not going to go down without a fight most nights. The team has something it can build on and continue to grow with. But the team is still trying to draw it all together every night.

"“We’re fighters,” Fultz said after practice Wednesday. “We all had the same mindset as far as trying to get better every day and trying to learn from our mistakes, understanding it is going to take time to get where we want to go. But we’re trying to do it now. We’re not trying to wait around and wait years. We’re trying to be a winning team today. Taking whatever we have to do each and every day to make that happen.”"

The team expects to win every night now. It feels like the team has turned that corner of expecting to win and competing every night.

With that comes raised expectations and a heightened awareness of what it will take to win.

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As the Magic came home from their West Coast trip and looked ahead to the next part of their season, they can see their resilience and their ability to fight and scratch. Now they just have to put together the consistency to win more often.