Orlando Magic are aiming for a higher standard now

Jalen Suggs returned to the Orlando Magic's lineup and made an impact in his return. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs returned to the Orlando Magic's lineup and made an impact in his return. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

38. Final. 106. 147. 119

The Orlando Magic were in the lead for much of the second quarter but anybody watching could see the warning signs of a disappointing evening when the shooting ran out.

The team was turning the ball over. Mikal Bridges caught fire to score 19 points in the first quarter and almost singlehandedly outpace the Magic’s offense. The Brooklyn Nets were collecting offensive rebounds from every corner — a sure sign of danger against a team that is capable of hitting 3-pointers at a high rate.

The Magic trailed by only one point at that second-quarter timeout midway through the period. It did not even particularly feel like the team was losing grip on the lead. It was a moment to remind the team of the standard they are playing to and trying to reach.

Dante Marchitelli on the Bally Sports Florida broadcast reported coach Jamahl Mosley went hard into his team, urging them to cut out the turnovers (although they just had two at that point in the game) and especially limit the offensive rebounds they were giving up (they had already conceded four). It was shocking to hear because Mosley usually seems so composed and happy to allow his team to make mistakes and learn with gentle teaching rather than tough love.

Maybe scenes like this are more common than fans realize, going unreported because they occur in the relative privacy of a timeout huddle, halftime discussion or off-day film review. Maybe this is not something uncommon.

But to hear this fully reported on the Magic’s broadcast with the context of the razor-thin margin for error for the team to make a last-minute run for the postseason was a bit jarring.

For the Magic to take their next step — whether that is to make the Play-In Tournament this season or to prepare for something beyond — it is going to take playing to a higher standard and playing with more attention to detail. The team is not playing to a score, it is playing to what is good for the team.

The Orlando Magic are not acting like a team with thinning postseason hopes. Instead, the team seems to be working toward building its base for its extremely bright future.

The Magic are still seeking a clearer response to the call. They struggled with those same things for the rest of the game. But they still scrambled and continued to build on their progress, running away from the Nets in the second half for a 119-106 win at the Amway Center.

All in all, it was a strong statement of how much the Magic still have to grow, but just how good they can be when everything locks into place. The Magic are quickly discovering their standard and setting their future up in these final games of the 2023 season.

"“We established our identity last year,” Jalen Suggs said after Sunday’s win. “Everyone knows how last year went. Guys grew, guys learned and we were ble to build the foudnation. Now it is about taking it to the next level, being consistent and doing it every night.”"

The win was the Magic’s third in a row — the first time they have won three in a row since the six-game win streak in December. Orlando’s defense was on point, stopping Brooklyn’s momentum and eventually its offensive rebounding outside of Mikal Bridges’ 44 points. And the offense was perfect and in sync.

The Magic shot 52.9 percent while giving up only 40.7 percent shooting. The Magic limited their turnovers to 11, giving up only eight points off turnovers. Showing their ability to recover from mistakes.

Orlando put a team-record-tying eight players in double figures, led by the burst scoring from Cole Anthony with 21 points. But everyone contributed something to the game. And Orlando pushed the pace well to stay on the attack and the aggressors in the game.

The Magic added 30 assists on their 45 makes, even more impressive considering the team (both teams) made fewer than 10 3-pointers for the game. The 30 assists were just the fourth time the Magic have reached that mark this season.

This was a great game on both ends of the floor, even if it still left plenty for the team to improve on. The Magic just never relented.

At this stage of the season, the result is the only thing that matters. Teams need to win in any way they can.

But the Magic are not necessarily just playing for this year. They want to make the postseason but they are also preparing the team and these young players for the playoff races to come. That is more the standard the team is trying to get at and is trying to play toward.

"“I think we’re just trying to win the day and continue to get better and also understand what we have to do to close out games and those timely moments,” Markelle Fultz said after Sunday’s game. “I think we’re just building in the right direction. We are continuing to get better every day. We are continuing to stay locked in on the goal and that is to win the day.”"

The end of the season brings some of this contemplation for the future — especially for a team that is outside of the postseason picture. The Magic’s continued focus on trying to make the postseason and put wins together is a sign of how much they believe in what they are building and what they could do really quickly.

That starts though with understanding that winning is a product of a lot of work and that results can come without the work sometimes. And that even in wins, teams have to find something to learn. They are playing to an ideal more and more.

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The Magic want to be a defensive team that gets after teams, locking down the paint (the Nets scored only 38 points in the paint on 19-for-33 shooting), forcing turnovers (15 Nets turnovers for 18 Magic points) and get out in transition (the Magic had 21 fast-break points).

They want to be an offensive team that uses its defense to power the offense, get out in transition and move the ball.

The Magic were not so bad off in the second quarter but the team was definitely struggling to put all the pieces together. It was not even suddenly, but the Magic were able to get themselves together and play this really strong brand of basketball.

The kind of basketball that has the team 27-23 in its last 50 games and essentially one injury-filled 5-20 start from actually being in the postseason. That feels like a greater sign of what this team will be capable of sooner than later.

"“At the end of the day, we just want these guys to understand what it means to play meaningful basketball, what it means to be in tight games and tight situations and how to figure out how to win,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Sunday’s win. “You are asking a young group to grow, get better, understand how they have to come down in crunch time and play. And they are doing that.”"

The Magic and their coaching staff likely know this. And that is why they are using this time to keep the pressure on their team and to hold their team to a higher standard. Because the team is playing to a bigger standard now.

Their next step, as Suggs put it is to play more consistently. To still play their style and be who they are no matter the situation. That is the difference between young teams and experienced teams. And that was at the heart of the reminder that sparked this game.

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While the postseason might be out of reach this season — with a Chicago Bulls win Sunday, the Orlando Magic are 4.5 games back with seven games to play — they are already starting to build who they want to be and the level they need to play at for next season while fostering growth for the rest of the season.