Orlando Magic are learning to win more and more

Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic are making some significant and proven leaps as they continue to learn to win. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic are making some significant and proven leaps as they continue to learn to win. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Wednesday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers featured a bit of deja vu.

The Orlando Magic raced out to a big lead and had the task of trying to hold on. That is seemingly a simple task for any team but still a difficult one for a young team. Especially one that has not experienced a lot of winning.

Last March against the Pacers, the Magic opened up as much as an 18-point lead and led by 15 heading into the fourth quarter.

The final quarter was a disaster, to say the least, with Indiana going on a 23-5 run to take the lead and force the Magic to scramble to get the game to overtime. Tyrese Haliburton (seven points), Malcolm Brogdon (14 points) and Buddy Hield (eight points) led that come-from-behind effort and changed the momentum of the game.

Even earlier this season, the Magic struggled with this Pacers team. Orlando lost a double-digit first-half lead only to lose on Franz Wagner’s missed basket. These are the ways young teams learn the hard way how to win.

The Magic are a team learning to win. And Wednesday’s 126-120 win over the Pacers was an imperfect example of how this team is maturing and building winning consistency more and more.

The Orlando Magic have taken measurable leaps in their game this season. This is a team that is maturing quickly and learning how to win more and more.

This was the same opponent the Magic faced Wednesday night as they did those other two times and struggled to close out.

The same one they built an 18-point lead against with a 46-point first quarter Wednesday. The same one they had to hold off with runs that cut the lead down to two at one point in the second quarter and then as close as three early in the quarter and within six with about two minutes to play.

Orlando had to make plays down the stretch. The most important thing is always that the team won. And that is the big growth because this team is starting to win a whole lot more.

"“Just responding. It’s so cliche, but it is a game of runs,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday’s win. “They made theirs, we made ours. Just being able to hold it off for long enough. Credit to Indiana playing [Tuesday] night and playing with a level of physicality and toughness that they did. Our guys did a good job staying resilient and not panicking in those moments.”"

The Pacers certainly brought it. They struggled from the start of the game and found themselves. But they ran into a Magic team that is growing in confidence and improving very quickly. Orlando withstood every run.

This has been the team’s reality for much of the past two months. Winning has become more of a habit than a rarity.

The Magic are 14-13 since Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony returned on Nov. 30. They are 14-9 since ending their losing streak on Dec. 6. This is a team that is legitimately playing good basketball.

Let’s cordon off that time period. Since Dec. 6, the Magic have a +0.9 net rating with a 115.0 offensive rating and 114.0 defensive rating. That is the 11th-best defense in the league during that time.

On top of this, the Magic’s starting lineup of Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter has a net rating of +19.9 points per 100 possessions (128.8 offensive/108.9 defensive rating split), the second-best mark for any group that has played at least 100 minutes together.

For the season, the team now has the 10th-best net rating in the fourth quarter this entire season at +5.7 points per 100 possessions (118.8/113.1 split). Pretty good for a team that struggles some in clutch situations. Orlando is proving to be a tough out with lineups that are working at a high level.

And one more, the Magic now have a 13-12 record at home and have won 12 of their past 15 games at home. The Amway Center has slowly become a fortress.

The Magic are still working to improve and get better. But these are also clear signs the team has taken some very real steps forward.

These are all elements the team knows it will need to make up the 3.5 games they need to get into the play-in chase. Orlando is starting to harden this identity. And they understand there is a tangible goal out there they can achieve.

"“Defense is going to have to be our identity for us to get into the playoffs,” Wendell Carter said after Wednesday’s win. “That’s our push right now. That’s what everybody’s mindset is. Defending home court is going to be huge for us. Especially as a young team, I think that’s a great advantage to have as a unit and organization to know that when teams come into the Amway Center, it’s going to be a dogfight. I think it’s good to establish that identity so eventually when we get into the playoffs at some point, it’s going to be tough to play in the Amway Center.”"

The team recognizes its youth and how much growth they still have to make. But there is undoubtedly a level of confidence this team is playing with more and more.

They have done well to recover from losses quickly. Just them being a .500 team is such a huge step forward. The Magic are 10 wins ahead of last year’s pace already and just three wins from matching last year’s total.

Nobody is celebrating that quite yet. It is just a confirmation of the work the team has to do.

But this is part of the growth process. It is important to remember that not everything happens instantaneously or all at once. The Magic need time to grow and go through these growing pains.

There is still plenty to go through of course. Including learning how to hold a double-digit lead without having to sweat through things. The team could still stand to improve late in games too. The Magic have an overall record of 9-15 in clutch situations, including a 6-3 record since Dec. 7.

Another area where this team has grown.

"“I just think we’re growing every day, we’re learning,” Harris said after Wednesday’s win. “You know you’re not going to play perfectly. You know you’re going to make mistakes. But as long as we’re not making the same mistakes, continue to learn from them and be able to adjust on the fly, that’s what it’s all about.“It’s definitely been fun, especially for me just watching us grow each and every game. You can see the confidence. Especially when we’re down and teams make that run, we know what to do. So we go out there and execute.”"

This team has slowly but surely shown this kind of improvement. Harris has seen that growth firsthand from his early days with the Denver Nuggets. It was one of the things he was excited to see and usher when he arrived in Orlando.

That growth and maturity is quickly coming on display with each passing game and each time winning feels more normal.

There is a higher level to reach. Everyone on the team knows this. The team is not at a place where it can celebrate its progress. It is, as Mosley likes to say, about getting better each day. That remains the team’s focus.

Games like Wednesday’s game against the Pacers show the team’s continued growth and how this team has gotten better and reached a new level. It shows how much this team has matured to take a run and give one right back.

Next. 3 trade scenarios for Terrence Ross at the deadline. dark

All the signs are pointing toward that team winning more and more. And this is a team starting to come into its own more. And they feel it happening as they continue to grow.