Orlando Magic must hold themselves to a higher standard the rest of the way

Wendell Carter had a strong offensive game, but struggled on the glass in the Orlando Magic's loss. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter had a strong offensive game, but struggled on the glass in the Orlando Magic's loss. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

81. Final. 113. 38. 123

The Orlando Magic were struggling from the tip.

Playing on the second night of back-to-backs has been a major issue for the Magic all year. They entered Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Raptors with a 1-9 record on the second night of back-to-backs and a 122.9 defensive rating.

Coming off a big win against the Chicago Bulls anchored by their defense, the Orlando Magic had to overcome one of their biggest weaknesses to get a chance to steal another game against one of their direct competitors for the final Play-In spot.

The Magic are going to have to overcome a lot of things they have struggled with to get to that destination. And at this point in the season, with everything the Magic have accomplished and how close they sit to that end goal, they are openly talking about what they want to accomplish in this final sprint to the end of the season.

At the same time, this means the stakes have been raised. The expectations for what this team can and should accomplish have changed.

To be a postseason team — as small as the goal is to reach the 10-seed and the Play-In Tournament — it will take playing at an even higher level. It will take breaking through their struggles and making up for them.

The Orlando Magic are raising the stakes of their season, believing they can make the push to make the Play-In Tournament. That requires playing to a higher standard.

This is the next level the Magic have to master — just as much as finding ways to scratch out games late is. The team has to find its way to dig down and find its way just long enough to get a win.

What happened in their 123-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday no longer feels like an acceptable outcome. Yes, the team fought and played hard to the end, trying to keep up with a hot-shooting Raptors team and overcome their struggles on the offensive glass. But the team is holding itself to a higher standard.

They know, just as they knew in losses to the New York Knicks and Miami Heat last week, critical defeats that may very well come back to haunt them as time ticks down on the season, that winning is their new standard. As much as they want to grow and develop as their main goal, winning is the ultimate goal.

And it takes a lot more to do that. This is what the team is discovering and learning most of all to end this season.

"“This group has a great level of resiliency,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday’s loss. “We just have to make sure we don’t put ourselves behind it to start games. We have to make sure we are ready to play right away. And that is on the defensive end of the floor. We started out the game exchanging baskets and that’s not what you want to do against a team like this.”"

The Magic fell down early Tuesday night as they struggled defensively and gave up 70.7 percent shooting in the first half. Jalen Suggs was a one-man wrecking crew, scoring 19 points in the first half and keeping the Magic afloat in a 43-point second quarter.

Markelle Fultz was locking in too. He continued his stellar run with 19 points, five assists and six rebounds. Wendell Carter provided a ton of offense too, scoring 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting and 3-for-6 from deep.

Fultz especially seemed to kickstart the Magic’s ball movement, taking the baton from Suggs in the second quarter and pushing the Magic into the lead at the half.

All the Magic would need to do is lock in a bit defensively and limit their turnovers in the second half.

Neither happened though. Orlando still had plenty of offense and still seemed engaged and fighting. But the execution was never there.

The Raptors ate up offensive rebounds — a 38.9 offensive rebound rate for the Raptors with 13 offensive rebounds leading to 18 second-chance points. Jakob Poeltl scored 30 points to go with nine boards and six blocks as he tallied a game-high +18 plus/minus. And the Magic turned the ball over 14 times in the second half for 22 points.

It may have been a spirited effort where Mosley praised his team’s fight on the second night of a back-to-back, but it was back to the same problems that can plague this team.

"“We’ve just got to close games out and be solid in winning time,” Suggs said after Tuesday’s loss. “There was a couple we gave away at the end that were simply off our mistakes. As we continue to learn and get better and be in these close games and be in a position where we are fighting for playoff spots, that’s the next step. Win those final six minutes, three minutes and it gets into winning time we find a way to close it out.”"

It is in fatigue that Orlando exposes many of its issues — its poor rebounding and its struggles to protect possessions. The Magic have to value these possessions both finishing defensive possessions with a rebound or valuing possessions by avoiding turnovers.

The Magic rank 13th in the league in defensive rebound rate at 72.3 percent. But with how poor the offense is and how much it relies on transition play, even this number — 27.7 percent offensive rebound rate allowed — can hurt. Obviously, Tuesday’s game was an outlier and one of the worst rebounding games of the season (the fourth-worst of the season).

Orlando also ranks 26th in turnover rate at 15.2 percent. That is a number that has been improving of late. But the 19.2 percent turnover rate was the worst mark for the Magic since the Jan. 27 loss to the Miami Heat.

This was just a game full of regressions. Full of parts of this team that are both uncharacteristic and yet integral parts of when the team struggles and how the team fails to break through and be the postseason this team is clearly capable of being.

This is obviously where the team needs to raise the bar.

"“I feel like we did a solid job from the beginning of the year to now of changing the script of who the Orlando Magic is,” Carter said after Tuesday’s loss. “I think going into the second half of the season, we can do a better job locking in on game plans. I think that’s all I want to take away is stay on the upward trend like we’ve been doing.”"

The second half of the season, ever since it became clear how much the Magic had improved and what they might still be able to accomplish, is about finding consistency. Consistency is shown a lot in these minimal rest situations. How does a team respond when it is fatigued? What can it count on?

This is still something the Magic are trying to pin down. It is still where this team shows how far the team has to go.

The team has already come so far. But there is still so much further to go. There is still a big goal to achieve. Orlando will enter their All-Star Break four games behind the Washington Wizards for that final Play-In spot. It is a tall order to reach it.

But the Magic are reaching for the stars and trying to overcome their slow start to get there. More importantly, they want to play like they are that team because that is the standard they are setting for themselves.

They have earned this privilege to feel this pressure and to be this team. And they have to hold themselves to that standard.

Next. Doing right by players will help Orlando Magic. dark

That makes games like Tuesday night especially frustrating and disappointing. Because fight is not enough anymore. The team needs better execution and focus to reach the Play-In Tournament.