Orlando Magic growing in confidence to end their season

Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic continue to show growth as they close their season. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic continue to show growth as they close their season. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

There are a lot of moments the Orlando Magic have had recently that would have turned out very differently earlier in the season.

Losing two 19-point leads at home to a playoff-caliber team like the New York Knicks might have led to a frustrating fourth quarter in November or December, especially considering how injured the team was at that point. There are a lot of young teams that would have faltered in that situation.

Instead, what has become the hallmark of the Magic’s win — three in the last five games — has been how the team has stepped up to the plate and made plays to win.

The Magic took a tie game in the fourth quarter against the Knicks on Thursday and extended it to an eight-point lead before holding them off down the stretch. They took a three-point game with 4.5 minutes to go in Tuesday’s win over the Washington Wizards and turned it into a double-digit victory. They hit big shots to beat the LA Clippers on their road trip in what was a tight game throughout.

This is a team that is quickly growing in confidence as the season comes to a close. They are a team that is putting in the building blocks for what they hope will be a long playoff run with this group — even as their current postseason hopes fade.

That confidence is the big thing for a young team. They are learning how to win and hoping their experience will serve them well.

The Orlando Magic are building their experience and their success late in games that is teaching them how to win. It is putting them in a position to grow and carry over lessons to next season.

This is a team that does not want to waste the final eight games of their season. They want to build on the growth they have seen in the last five games — yes, even in at times frustrating close losses to the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers.

For now, the experience is the point. And that is going to draw them together for whatever comes next for this team and the challenge ahead.

"“We’ve been talking about it the whole season, that belief system,” Cole Anthony said after practice Saturday. “It’s one thing to say it, it’s another thing to believe it. As the season has gone on, we’ve started to trust each other more and that belief system has become real. We’ve been in several situations like that. A lot of competitive games. We’ve lost a bunch, and we’ve won a bunch. It’s just a matter of being there. We’ve really been able to correct our mistakes as we’ve been in those situations more and more.”"

The Magic have indeed found themselves playing better in these moments. The anecdotes of recent games are part of the larger narrative for the season.

Anthony said this is where the team has shown its most improvement during the course of the season. They have stepped up more and more in late-game situations and shown better poise and composure to win these games.

The numbers back this up.

Orlando is 18-23 in clutch situations (when the game is within five points in the final five minutes) for the season. Their 41 clutch situations are the 10th-most in the league after playing in just 33 last year (the fourth-fewest in the league).

The Magic have had their struggles in late-game situations with a 113.4/122.4 split. That -9.0 net rating is the sixth-worst in the league and their clutch defense is the second-worst in the league.

But since the All-Star Break, Orlando is 6-4 in clutch situations with a 138.5/124.4 split. Since Jan. 1, the Magic are 11-10 with a 121.3/126.0 offensive/defensive rating split.

To say the least, the numbers back up that the Magic are finishing games stronger. That is some major growth for a young team that still does not quite know how to put teams away comfortably.

And while this improvement has not helped the team gain ground in the standings, the team knows it is far more competitive now than it was earlier in the season — even when the team was losing a lot of close games early in the season.

That is at least some sign of their progress.

"“We’ve all gotten more comfortable playing on the same floor and really started trusting each other,” Anthony said after practice Saturday. “That means trusting each other to make the big shots. Whether that means making the extra pass at the end of the game or early in the game. It’s been really selfless basketball.”"

The Magic want to play their best basketball right now for sure. As the season comes to an end, teams want to be peaking in hopes of playing well heading into the postseason.

The Magic are feeling the pressure that comes from a postseason chase. And this basketball has meaning to them.

Orlando knows that its games have meaning both for itself and for its opponents. The Magic have only one more game against a team not currently in the midst of a postseason chase — next Sunday’s game against the Detroit Pistons.

Orlando is nearing elimination as the next team in the standings to have their postseason dreams snuffed. The Orlando Magic will be eliminated with any combination of five Magic losses or five Chicago Bulls wins with the Magic trailing the Bulls by 4.5 games with eight games remaining.

Orlando’s chances of making the postseason are merely possible, but it is not likely.

On top of this, the Magic may be getting some pressure from above.

The Orlando Magic are gaining ground on the Portland Trail Blazers, leading them by 1.5 games for fifth in the Lottery standings. The Blazers are expected to shut down Damian Lillard and that could make for an interesting race in the standings ahead of finalizing the Lottery odds.

The Magic organizationally may face some difficult choices and could look to shut down players dealing with some nagging injuries — Jalen Suggs (concussion) practiced Saturday and is QUESTIONABLE for Sunday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets and Franz Wagner is a game-time decision with a sprained left ankle. then again, what seems to matter more for this team is putting in the building blocks for next season and what they hope is a postseason push.

Until the team is finally eliminated, it seems the Magic are more concerned with how their team is growing and continuing the clear progress they have made.

That is the growth everyone wants to see. And the fact the Magic are feeling this and recognizing it — while also growing from it and delivering results — is a good sign as the team heads into the offseason.

This is what young teams want to see play out. They want to see their players get put under pressure and learn critical lessons and apply them when confronted with the same pressure and situation in the future.

The Magic seem like they will get more benefit out of exposing the team to as many close games and pressure situations as they can as they prepare for next season — both in building chemistry for the players who remain heading to next year and in preparing them for the pressure that is likely to come next year.

The team is putting that on full display with how much they have grown and stepped up to the plate more often in these close games, and more importantly, close wins.

Hard work starts now for Jamahl Mosley, Orlando Magic. dark. Next

There is still a lot to play for. And while it is cliche — and perhaps an excuse for the eliminated teams — to say that teams can build momentum into the offseason by playing well. This Magic team really might gain something from all of it.

The confidence this team is gainign has to be worth something.