Greatest sign of Orlando Magic’s success? Nobody wants this season to end

Orlando Magic, Markelle Fultz. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic, Markelle Fultz. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports /

Markelle Fultz was going to fly.

He has jokingly been angry at the rim for several months and weeks, throwing down — or attempting to throw down — monster and powerful slams on several occasions. He was going to go for one more after hitting one early in the first quarter and then another in the second.

So in the third quarter, Fultz stole the ball from the Detroit Pistons off an inbound and he was off to the races, only with an escort teammate next to him. And Fultz delivered a show.

Fultz cocked back and delivered a full windmill dunk, flying to the basket and sending the Amway Center crowd — the fourth-largest to watch a Magic home game — into hysterics. This in a game the Magic were winning and would win comfortably 128-102, the largest margin of victory in a game this season.

In a word, this was fun. A rare respite in a season that has been full of growth and progress but very rarely comfort — growth never has comfort does it?

The countdown to the end of the season is on for the Orlando Magic and nobody is ready for this season to conclude. The team is having too much fun learning and growing.

This was a dominant victory with everyone getting their hits in and getting their shots in.

Eight players scored in double figures — tying a franchise record the team last set last Sunday in a win over the Brooklyn Nets. No player scored more than 18 points with Jalen Suggs hitting four 3-pointers to get to that mark. Paolo Banchero got his work in early setting the tone with 10 of his 14 points and seven of his nine rebounds in the first quarter.

Everyone played their role perfectly with no one needing to do too much.

Defeating a struggling Pistons team is not the point though. The Magic took care of their business against one of the worst teams in the league — and a team that has now lost 20 of its past 21 games. Taking care of business is a thing in itself for such a young team still learning how to win.

"“We have a lot of weapons on this team,” Cole Anthony said after Sunday’s game. “When we get out there and play very selflessly, it’s just fun. . . . It wasn’t until this year that every single game we played I thought we had a chance to win. Especially at home, protecting the home court, there is nothing like that.”"

The larger point though was how much fun everyone had in the process. How much fun this team has been to watch grow and learn. Having a game like this was only a sign of what this team looks like when everything works.

The Magic have been the team at the bottom of the standings that clearly is building something. They are in that sweet spot where winning is important as a lesson for the future rather than a directive for the present.

Success this season was never going to be measured in wins and losses — the Magic have improved by 14 wins already this season after reaching 34 wins Sunday, the largest win improvement in the Eastern Conference.

It was never going to be measured in awards for their players — Banchero will win Rookie of the Year despite any late arguments to the contrary. It was never going to be measured in the team’s statistical rankings.

It was going to be measured by the vibes the team gave off and the progress they have made. It was going to be measured on whether the team could map out its future.

As those asides in the paragraphs above show, the Magic certainly did that. This season has been a smashing success. And with the energy and vibes this team is giving off, the team is playing some of its best basketball as the year comes to a close.

Orlando has won five of its last six games and six of its last eight games. That may be too late to make the postseason push that gives the team a tangible reward but it is plenty to show who the Magic are and what they plan to be about.

Quite simply, this has been a fun season just as much as Sunday was a fun game.

Yes, playing without pressure allowed fans and the team to enjoy the simpler successes throughout the year. But the team has a distinct character and now that character is adding up to wins and more and more.

The climb up is always full of excitement and thrill. This team has been all of that and more this season.

The only bad part of a night like Sunday night then? That would be realizing it is almost over.

There are only four more games left with this group. Four more games before everything changes — before the winning expectations do set in and the team’s ascent is no longer off in the future but very much the present.

And that finality hangs over everything.

The Magic still have slim postseason hopes. But their elimination number is down to one after the Chicago Bulls’ come-from-behind victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.

One more loss — and a pair of games against the Cleveland Cavaliers awaits at the Amway Center to close the home season — or one more Chicago Bulls win — Sunday’s season finale against the Detroit Pistons looms for them — and the Orlando Magic’s postseason dreams will officially end.

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Orlando has made it clear it is not playing solely for that honor. The team has been pushing and striving for that carrot, but it is clear that is not what is motivating the team in the closing moments of the season.

"“Regardless we are going to continue playing to win,” Jalen Suggs said after Sunday’s win. “We’re not playing this game just to go out there or get stats. We’re going out there to win night in and night out. We’ve put ourselves in a great position this year. We had a slow start but we bounced back, went on a winning streak and really played well and kind of made a name for ourselves. The Magic aren’t the Magic of last year where you got a free win coming in here and this team is in a rebuilding process.”"

The players on this team know the group has a bigger future ahead of them. And everyone is eager to see that.

Of course, that is not how things work. The Magic will inevitably add players and make changes to the roster. Expectations will be placed on this team and the directive will not be just to have fun — although that is certainly an important element to any winning team.

Things are going to change drastically from mid-April to late September.

Right now, this moment is about something purer and something simpler. And the fact this team has so much fun and looks like so much fun. That is the sign of progress the team needed to see this year.

Nobody wants this season to end.

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They are eager to see where the journey takes them next. Unfortunately in a week, they will have to take a pause. The end is near. But the ride has been as exciting as Fultz rising up for a windmill dunk.