The Orlando Magic showed what it looks like when a team that stays competitive toward the end of the season plays a team with nothing to play for except for the better lottery odds.
The Orlando Magic routed the Detroit Pistons to the tune of 128-102 at Amway Center with eight players scoring in double digits.
Four of those players came off the bench including Jalen Suggs, who led the team with 18 points, and Cole Anthony, who added 17 points.
Getting in on the fun was frontcourt men, Moe Wagner and recent minutes-getter Goga Bitadze. They combined for 24 points while only missing one shot.
The Orlando Magic won virtually wire to wire, dominating the tanking Detroit Pistons for a runaway win and their 34th of the season.
In what was a refreshing sight to see, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner did not need to carry the load as they combined for an efficient 30 points combined.
It was a nice win over the Pistons, who own the dubious title of the worst record in the league, and will probably ride that into a top-four NBA Draft pick.
Orlando also notches its 34th win of the season, which is good enough for 12 more than last year with four remaining. That is the biggest win increase in the Eastern Conference.
Beyond the game
While this Sunday evening matchup may seem like another snoozer to the regular NBA fan who does not pay attention to the league’s usual bottom dwellers, this was a tale of two franchises.
Orlando and Detroit have had the same minimal amount of success as of late — a relentless injury history, the same opportunity to pick a star at the top of the draft and both have become a second-chance hotbed for young (former) stars.
So what is the difference? What is Orlando doing differently that has allowed them more than double the wins of Detroit?
Let’s take a closer look.
The Magic have been a franchise struggling to build a competitive playoff team since Dwight Howard’s departure.
Even with a few short stints in the playoffs under the leadership of Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, it never felt like the Magic had anything special.
The playoffs were something to “get to” not something that would they could advance in.
And that was frustrating, not only for fans, but for ownership as well. Hope tends to die out when you have one singular playoff victory in a decade.
But this year, with the team selecting Paolo Bancehro first overall, and adding Franz Wagner last year, along with taking a chance on a couple of guys such as Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter, it feels like the playoffs are not in the distant future for the franchise.
And more importantly, it feels like competitiveness in the playoffs, with the correct moves, is not far-fetched either.
It feels like the black hole for talent, as some have called it, has lifted. Players no longer need to leave to reach their full potential.
Instead, it has become a home and reinvigorating landing spot for young talent.
That was tough to build and for the Pistons to do it, they will need to follow (or not follow) these crucial steps that the Magic did (or did not) do.
1. Don’t draft need, draft the best player but don’t clog the depth chart
Orlando Magic fans, and perhaps the old front office, can attest to this.
Drafting the best player available and swinging for the fences is fine. You are drafting in the lottery for a reason, you have to get better pretty much everywhere.
But if you take a player where you already have a decent amount of depth, make sure he can get consistent playing time. And that means playing time to make mistakes, work through slumps, and get through regular growing pains.
Orlando selected Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Chuma Okeke while having two bona firde starters in Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic playing their position.
When the Magic made the playoffs twice, it was hard to argue for things to change. Especially when it had been so long.
But it got to the point of ridiculousness with how clogged the frontcourt was.
And it felt, especially when Orlando was losing or was not that good, that they were just wasting their time.
2. Realize when it is time to let go
It is easy in hindsight to say the Orlando Magic should have cleaned house earlier than they did in March 2021. And they are definitely reaping the benefits from the trades they did end up making.
But realistically, it probably should have happened sooner. And if it did, they would have figured out if who they drafted was a part of their long-term plan much earlier.
This season made it obvious that Mo Bamba was not going to become the player that Magic fans hoped for.
He had just re-signed a two-year “prove-it” deal after what was his best season as a pro and he regressed. That was sign enough to cut bait. And when they did, Jonathan Isaac got to fill in.
Now obviously Isaac has his own issues he will need to take care of. But since his absence, we now see Goga Bitadze and Moe Wagner at the 5 to help out Wendell Carter.
And they are both putting in quality minutes that helps the front office assess what they have for next season.
For a string of three to four years, it felt like you never knew what the young players were capable of. And as a team trying to build, that sent them into a loop which led to a total overhaul (again).
3. Get a number 1… or at least a number 2
As stated earlier, it is more than okay to shoot for the stars. The Milwaukee Bucks did it 10 years ago in the middle of the first round when they selected Giannis Antetokounmpo and it turned out all right for them.
And let’s be realistic, none of the steps above would work without Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner.
Without those pieces, the Orlando Magic would be looking down the same barrel from two years ago: A team with a low ceiling.
The Pistons might have a number one or number two in Cade Cunningham, or Jaden Ivey, or maybe even James Wiseman (that pick-up feels Magic-like).
But if they do not, it is back to the drawing board.
It is not all sunshine and roses for the Magic, they still have work to do. But after capturing their third straight win, they look like a team trying to build momentum for next year.
And that is certainly more than what some teams can say.
The Orlando Magic will play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the next two games and then end the season against the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat.