For long stretches, the Orlando Magic looked like an unstoppable juggernaut. Their length flying around and contesting shots, the team challenging and making efforts and second efforts to confound the Miami Heat on their home floor.
The Heat are not a great 3-point shooting team this season, but they could feel the presence of the Magic’s length at every turn. And when Miami did get into the paint, the team faced a swarm of hands and arms that made doing anything productive extremely difficult.
For nearly a quarter and a half in the first half, the Magic were at their very best. They took a nine-point lead into the locker room, withstanding their own offensive shortcomings against the strong Heat defense and the usual runs you see from an NBA team.
This is an extremely resilient Magic team. They are no longer pushovers and no longer a team hoping to stay in the game against quality opponents. This is a group that can beat any team they face.
That is what is making losses like Friday’s 110-105 loss to the Heat so disappointing.
It is easy to point to late-game execution. This game was lost in the early parts of the first quarter and the early parts of the third quarter. It was lost with the mistakes made at critical points throughout the fourth quarter.
The Orlando Magic’s biggest weakness is their penchant for turnovers. The team struggled to control their tempo and it cost them in a big way in a loss to the Miami Heat.
Any time the Magic struggled in this game, it was usually preceded by a run of turnovers, a run of often unforced errors that put them in the hole.
"“It wasn’t just down the stretch, it was the whole game,” Cole Anthony said after Friday’s loss. “We had 19 turnovers, it’s hard to win a game against a playoff team like that. We’ve just got to be a lot better.“It was all self-inflicted wounds. I don’t think they were doing anything too spectacular to do that. I do think they are a good defensive team, but we were just careless on our part. Got to give them credit. They came and they outplayed us.”"
This is the Magic’s last big weakness.
The team has found a way to be competitive and to make their way and give themselves a chance to win in every other facet it seems. But turnovers keep popping up as a major weakness that will keep the Magic from reaching their next level.
The Heat certainly made their plays — Jimmy Butler scored 29 points including a finishing flourish as the Magic tried to get back into the game as they suddenly could not find a stop. A great player made plays to win the game.
They certainly defended well too as the Magic struggled to get good looks consistently, grabbing the paint touches that usually set up their passing game or send them to the line.
Against Miami, Orlando had 20 turnovers for 32 Miami points. That helped the Heat get to 16 fast-break points. The Magic had a turnover rate of 20.2 percent for the game, meaning they turned it over on one of every five possessions.
They started the game with turnovers on four of their first five possessions, falling into a 7-0 hole. It was early enough that they could climb out of it. But the Magic had six turnovers for nine Heat points.
As Orlando lost a nine-point halftime lead, the team committed five turnovers for another nine points in the third quarter. And in the decisive fourth quarter, the Magic had seven more turnovers for 11 points.
That is how the Magic’s lead flipped into a deficit the team had to scramble to get back. That is how a team undoes a lot of strong work.
"“They’re all costly,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday’s loss. “You turn it over 19 times for 32 points, they are all costly in a game like this in a five-point game.“We’ve got to take care of the basketball. I don’t think there’s any other way to put it. I don’t think there’s any strategic version of that tonight. You’ve got to take care of the basketball down the stretch. You don’t give yourself a chance in those possessions. This is something you’ve got to learn from but we have to take care of the basketball and give ourselves a chance on that end of the floor.”"
Orlando had turnovers of all types from throwing the ball out of bounds on miscommunications, driving recklessly into the lane for offensive fouls, poor passes out of double teams and plain steals from the active Heat defense.
Turnovers are a great equalizer, and in this case, it is weighing the Magic down. It is something that has weighed the Magic down all season.
Orlando is 27th in the league with a 15.4-percent turnover rate. The Magic turn it over 15.3 times per game. But considering this team plays at a slower pace, each turnover cuts a bit harder. Each one is a precious possession lost.
Especially since they often lead to points on the other end. Opponents score 18.8 points off turnovers per game against them, the fourth-most in the league.
It is quite simple, the Magic are putting themselves in the hole. That is what happened throughout Friday’s game.
Their good shooting — 47.8-percent shooting, 12-for-34 shooting from deep (35.3 percent) and 32 free throws (27 makes) — and solid defense — a 110.0 defensive rating — could not get them out of the deficit they found themselves in. They gave away too many possessions and gave the Heat the confidence to stay in it and close it out with the experienced finisher in Butler.
Turnovers forced their defense to scramble from the start rather than get them set where they could scramble and slow h the Heat’s half-court offense. Instead, the Magic were backtracking and trying to make up for the mistakes they just made. That is how the Heat got downhill and started to live in the paint more and more.
It all becomes bigger when the Magic are making unforced errors.
But that has been the reality this season. This young team is making repeated errors of its own doing as it gets stuck offensively or tries to force play. All their worst moments typically come from this very thought and the mistakes it leads to. Often their worst moments come directly off excessive turnovers.
It undoes a lot of good work.
"“When it comes down to it, you’ve got to take care of the basketball,” Mosley said after Friday’s loss. “I love our fight. I love the fact that we were in it in a great environment on the road against a team. You’ve got to take care of the basketball and we didn’t do that.”"
For a young Magic team that is learning to win more and is improving greatly. Orlando has to find a way to get its turnovers under control. It has to play with more poise and maturity.
The Magic have indeed come a long way. But turnovers are the biggest thing taking them out of games and costing them chances at precious wins.
This is the latest but all-encompassing lesson for the Magic of late. And one that cost them a chance to beat the Heat on the road.