Orlando Magic fighting in all the right ways

Jalen Suggs is quickly emerging as a defensive leader, energizing the Orlando Magic to win more. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Jalen Suggs is quickly emerging as a defensive leader, energizing the Orlando Magic to win more. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are a young team filled with confidence. That has them unafraid of anyone.

Look no further than Friday’s incident in the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

What everyone seems pretty clear on is that there was some amount of chirping between the Magic’s bench and Timberwolves guard Austin Rivers. To Markelle Fultz, as he told Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel, it was nothing abnormal for a game especially when players around each other’s bench.

Something clearly struck a nerve though.

Rivers missed a three in front of the Magic’s bench and there was clearly continued talk as the play moved to the other end of the court. The Magic ended up missing a shot. Rudy Gobert rebounded and threw the ball out of bounds trying to get it to a guard.

Rivers was literally on the other end of the court, went back toward the Magic bench and kept talking. It is not clear what happened with the cameras focused on the other end of the court, but either Bamba stood up and tried to push Rivers back onto the court or Rivers grabbed Bamba causing him to stand and react. But suddenly the two players were signing at each other.

Jalen Suggs came over and ended up tackling Austin Rivers to separate the two. And both teams were engaged in a shoving match waiting for cooler heads to prevail.

In the end, five players were ejected with Bamba and Suggs hitting the showers early for the Magic — where Bamba continued to talk eliciting another social media response from the veteran guard.

This is not the fight anybody imagined we would talk about when it comes to the Magic. On one hand, this seemed like youthful exuberance getting the best of them. A bunch of guys younger than 25 acted a little immature in the grand scheme of things and got under a veteran’s skin.

Still, the incident in the third quarter hid a growing truth about this team.

The Orlando Magic got involved in another physical altercation. But it revealed a truth about this team as they gutted out a road win — this team fights in all the right ways too.

They fight.

Not in the literal sense — although this was their second physical dust-up that will likely end up with suspensions — but in all the ways the team wants.

"“People talk about us being young all the time,” Cole Anthony said after Friday’s win. “I don’t think that means anything. We’ve gotten to the point where people recognize us. We are on people’s radars right now. The Orlando Magic, they’re young but they’re all right. We just stay the course, clawing our way through the league and try to get wins like this. We take it one game at a time, we’ll be all right.”"

That is how the team flipped a poor first quarter filled with turnovers and frustrating finishing and shot selection into a seven-point halftime lead. How they extended that lead through the third quarter. How they survived poor shooting games from their two budding stars.

And how in the immediate aftermath of the literal fight that took place with the Target Center crowd in a full froth of frustration and anger, the Magic kept their cool and put the hammer down, building their lead out to 22 points before they had to hold on from one last desperate run in a 127-120 win on the road.

The Magic have long lauded their resilience as part of their team’s identity. They have lauded their ability to bounce back and fight back from deficits.

This is not the “we fought to turn a 20-point deficit into a 10-point loss” that teams at the bottom can often laud as a means to keep things positive. The Magic are a team that never feels fully out of it. And while they may not win every game and every situation, they make sure opponents know they were in a scrappy fight.

Orlando has slowly established this part of their identity and made it something dangerous. The Magic have caught teams by surprise plenty with just effort.

The fight from the Magic is certainly exemplified by the effort the team gave when it was at its lowest.

It came from Mo Bamba, stepping in for Wendell Carter who was out with a plantar fascia strain that has been bothering him for weeks, and from Jalen Suggs. Unironically those were the two involved in the main fight of this game. Energy always takes a bit of edge.

Suggs’ defensive energy was especially apparent. He finished the game with three steals. This followed a game where he had a career-high five steals.

The steals Suggs came up with were simply incredible and his energy became disruptive in that second quarter.

The biggest highlight of the night came when Jalen Suggs smothered Jaylen Nowell, knocking the ball away seemingly without using his hands to ignite a fast break that ended with Suggs throwing a lob to Cole Anthony for a windmill alley-oop.

The second of his steals came when he just ripped the ball from D’Angelo Russell. The Magic turned it over on the ensuing fast break but Suggs was able to track back and steal the ball back, diving out of bounds to rescue the possession.

"“It’s special,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday’s win. “He has a talent. He has a gift to be able to defend the right way, to get into the basketball and navigate through screens. His activity and his anticipation is really something special. He has a tremendous gift defensively.”"

This is just infectious energy.

Suggs has had his struggles early in his career, especially on offense. But in the last few weeks, it has clicked for him to focus almost solely on his defense. And that has turned him into a chaos agent. He creates possessions with his defensive IQ and smarts.

That energy spreads elsewhere.

It spreads to Anthony and sparks his offense. He scored 20 points in the win Friday. He has been on a tear lately averaging 14.4 points per game and shooting 54.2 percent from the floor in his last nine games. The duo of Anthony and Suggs have an on-court net rating of +8.6 points per 100 possessions with a defensive rating of 106.0 points allowed per 100 possessions.

That is a killer rating and surprising considering some of Anthony’s noted defensive shortcomings. But that is the kind of fight that spreads throughout a team. One player can indeed be that spark.

Moe Wagner has been needling opponents for years, but he is also a smart player who knows how to use his footwork and fakes to keep defenses off balance. He has been making a living at the line as much as anywhere else, averaging 18.5 points per game and 7.3 free throw attempts per game in his last four games.

Everything is clicking in new ways. And the Magic never seem out of it, able to lift each other up when the game calls for it. And have each other’s back in any situation.

"“I think that second unit, obviously now with everybody being back healthy, needed a while to figure itself out,” Moe Wagner said after Friday’s win. “We’ve embraced the randomness and unpredictability of it, playing off each other and staying calm through the chaos with that group. Obviously, everybody can hoop on this team. It’s not a matter of are we able to do that. It’s more if we and how we stick together when things don’t go our way.”"

This is the edge the Magic have to live with to fight and scratch and claw. This is how a team can overcome a poor shooting night or a bad scoring game from their top two stars.

That is how a team fights and that is how a team grows defensively. That is what this Magic team is doing.

Next. Markelle Fultz has proven himself more valuable than Ben Simmons. dark

The Magic’s actual physical fight was a manifestation of how confident this team is and how they are getting under the skin of opponents because they are not rolling over.

This is a team that is learning how to win these fights more.