With the Orlando Magic four games back of the 10th-place Washington Wizards in the race for the Play-In Tournament, it is time to throw in the towel on that goal.
There is no shame in this, the organization has had a really good year and were in the hunt with 15 games left to go in the regular season.
The only negative here is the Magic played lethargically and threw away some winnable home games, which would have given them a better chance of pushing the Wizards all the way.
Everyone trod water and that was the problem. Orlando did not take advantage of their opponents’ lethargy either and the standings have stayed essentially the same for several weeks. Time is simply running out — with the toughest part of the schedule ahead with a four-game West Coast road trip.
With the end of the season now in sight, losing competitively is the best direction left for the Orlando Magic to take, as they look ahead to next season.
Thursday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz was exactly the kind of game we are talking about here, with the Magic eventually losing 131-124 at home.
To have lost three on the bounce in the Amway Center is never good, but the fans remain engaged and pretty vocal during the games. Something that has definitely been missing in the past.
That Jazz game is what the team should be looking to replicate from here on out, to ensure they have the best odds possible at getting a high lottery pick while still creating growth opportunities for their young roster.
The Magic were competitive defensively, unlike in the two previous ugly losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers, and even tried out some things we have not seen much of.
With Wendell Carter out injured, coach Jamahl Mosley tried rookie Paolo Banchero as the center in a small lineup. And there were some encouraging signs in those minutes.
These are the kinds of moves Mosley can make now that the season is essentially over, and which will stand to help them in the future.
Other directions the team can go could include giving Bol Bol some more run to see if he can replicate his early season form and allowing Jalen Suggs to be a bit more of a playmaker.
As long as the effort does not slip, then all of this should be on the table for the Magic. This is the time to further explore the roster and help solidify plans and ideas for next season — when the Magic should have a clear postseason expectation placed on them.
But the numbers are trending in the wrong direction in some key areas, and after looking like a future defensive beast as recently as last month, this is a concern for the group.
Having sat as high as fourth in the league in defensive rating only a few weeks ago, the Magic have slipped to 12th in their last 15 games played (113.5).
Carter’s absence for the last few games partly explains this. His importance to the roster is magnified every time he is forced off the court.
There are other players who are capable of stepping up when he is not around, but nobody is able to do what Carter can consistently for the Magic.
This is not solely on Carter however, and the malaise with which the group can play on many nights is frustrating, especially when we have seen them beat the Boston Celtics three times and score other big wins off their strong defensive efforts.
It is easy to get up for those marquee games, but remaining a tough out even when fewer people are paying attention is the next step here.
The Magic have gotten better at this, their six-game win streak from earlier in the season (part of what would become eight wins in nine games) is proof they are becoming more consistent.
With a four-game, West Coast road trip still to come before the end of the season, as well as two more games against the Miami Heat, the onus is on this young team to not fall flat on their faces.
They have worked too hard to go out this year with a whimper, and if they do so it will set them up negatively for a hugely important summer and the training camp that is going to follow.
There will hopefully be two lottery picks incoming, as well as the possibility of a notable offseason acquisition or two headed to Orlando as well.
These new arrivals will need to see that this young team is serious about winning, and about making the playoffs as soon as next season. The time to turn the corner has arrived.
It would be easy to take the foot off the gas and coast toward the end of the regular season, but this should be a period where the Magic still defend at a high level while also trying out some things.
They rank 27th in 3-point attempts per game for example (30.7), so trying to implement new offensive schemes to manufacture better looks, while still losing, would be an ideal outcome.
Their offensive rating of 111.6 puts them at 25th in the league. Another reason to try and put the work in now, while still keeping it tight defensively, in the hopes it stands to them in the future.
This season has been one that has brought back optimism for the Magic.
To undo all of that good work now that the Play-in Tournament is out of sight is not how the organization should close this year out. They need to lose but do so in the right way.