Orlando Magic’s deep bench gets its chance to desired effect

Jay Scrubb got his first extended run with the Orlando Magic as the team turns its attention to its bench to end the season. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Jay Scrubb got his first extended run with the Orlando Magic as the team turns its attention to its bench to end the season. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

38. Final. 118. 156. 94

At around 4:30 p.m., the Orlando Magic’s injury report suddenly grew.

After spending the day with just Jonathan Isaac (recovering from surgery and OUT for the year) as the lone player listed on the injury report, it grew five-fold. The Magic’s entire starting lineup would miss Thursday’s home finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cole Anthony would become a healthy scratch — in uniform and available, but left out of the rotation.

Suddenly the whole meaning and value of the game completely changed. The Magic, eliminated from postseason play, had seemingly made a business decision.

Outwardly, coach Jamahl Mosley said with the team eliminated from the postseason, the team wanted to take this opportunity to give players at the end of the bench their opportunity to play and their reward for their work that often went without much thanks in practice.

It was a chance to put players like Chuma Okeke and Bol Bol back into the rotation, give expanded minutes to Caleb Houstan and two-way guys in Kevon Harris, Admiral Schofield and Jay Scrubb. It was a chance for Michael Carter-Williams to get some run.

That is all valuable and noble. But the effect was obvious. It just took watching the disjointed game on the floor.

Eliminated from the postseason, the Orlando Magic used their home finale to give their deep bench players a longer look. It had its desired effect in a lot of ways in a frustrating and difficult-to-discern loss.

Yes, the Magic got off to a hot start led by Jalen Suggs’ hot shooting to score 42 points in the first quarter. In that quarter, the team looked energetic and creative making shots to give the team a chance.

The rest of the game? That looked more like a preseason game with players turning it over and trying to force passes and plays. It looked very much like a team that has not played together very much. And while the time on the court is valuable, time without purpose or direction makes it pretty hard to decipher what anyone is supposed to get out of it.

It is hard not to call the game what it is. The final score — a Cleveland 118-94 win at the Amway Center on Thursday — really says it all and the direction these teams are taking into mid-April and the closing moments of the regular season.

The Cavaliers are a team playing with some purpose and confidence as they prepare for the postseason (they were hardly perfect either, but Danny Green and Cedi Osman are veteran players enough to know how to rain down threes and punish imprecise defenses.

The Magic are a team that is no longer postseason-eligible. And they are still in the midst of a tight Lottery standings race going in the opposite direction. The Magic certainly tried to give themselves a chance to win this with their effort.

The thumb was just pressed too hard on the scale and without the benefit of some good shotmaking — especially after that first quarter — this was a team that was going to sink.

This was a learning opportunity for the team, but one that started at square one.

"“That’s the thing that you talk about with a young group,” Mosley said after Thursday’s game. “How do you find ways to help their confidence grow? How do you help them believe in who they are and what we’re doing? I think that’s the biggest key. To see Jalen do that tonight says wonders to what the coaches have worked with him but his ability to bounce himself back.”"

Every team gets 82 opportunities to get better and learn something. And it is a worthy goal to try to give some of the players who have been out of the rotation their opportunity.

Suggs got the reigns to lead the Magic as one of the few major role players playing in this game. He finished with 22 points on 7-for-15 shooting, making five of his nine 3-pointers. He had 14 of those points, hitting five of six shots and four of five 3-pointers in what turned out to be a 42-point quarter.

Suggs said he struggled some in the third quarter with his shot selection and decision-making, shouldering the responsibility for the deficit getting away from the Magic early in the third. They trailed by 10 entering the quarter and by 22 after three.

The team he was playing alongside though certainly were part of the issue as the Magic had a lot of familiar but rarely used faces trying to find that spark.

Undoubtedly, it was good to see Bol Bol work that sometimes goofy-looking Magic to get around defenders and to the basket. But it was difficult to see him struggle with his shot selection in scoring 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting (he added four turnovers too).

It was good to see Michael Carter-Williams back on the floor being an instigator and defensive presence. But his impact was limited with two points and three assists in 12 minutes. That is not his role anyway.

Related Story. Cole Anthony deserves the backing of every Magic fan. light

It was good to see Chuma Okeke get his most extended run in some time and get his feet back under him. A lot of what he does will not show up in the box score. But two points on 1-for-6 shooting with three blocks accurately displays the full spectrum of the experience.

It was good to see Caleb Houstan get another opportunity as a starter. But he struggled with his shot-making just three of nine for eight points.

It was great to see the Magic’s two-way guys get the extended burn. Admiral Schofield continued to show his improvement offensively (seven points on 2-for-6 shooting) and his versatility defensively, guarding seemingly every position on the floor. It was good to see Kevon Harris be his usually scrappy self to chase down loose balls and get deflections (in addition to eight points on 3-for-6 shooting).

It was good to get the first extended look at Jay Scrubb, who showed off his scoring chops including a buzzer-beating three to end the first quarter on his way to 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting).

There were plenty of bright spots and the team played hard. But it still looked really rough with a lot of growing pains and trust that needed to be built.

"“It was good to see them play still, just to get some bump and get out on the floor,” Suggs said after Thursday’s loss. “It was fun to see those guys playing. There is room for improvement for all of us, me included. Especially in that second half, I wasn’t as tight as I needed to be. I think the guys did well. They all played hard to the end, continue to build and grow. I’m excited to see what they’ve got and how we build tomorrow.”"

All of that was good to see. But it was hard to say how valuable it was. The game was so ragged, its value to the Magic in figuring out who these guys could be for the team next year or what they could bring to other teams is just so unclear.

The Magic took the lead in the first quarter but quickly found themselves trying to dig out. They turned it over 22 times for 26 points. They gave up 18 3-pointers on 47.4-percent shooting from deep as they struggled to get their defense set.

Orlando ended up in the trap of taking quick shots and trying to force everything. The Magic had 11 of their 21 turnovers in the first quarter. They shot just 17 for 60 (28.3 percent) after the first-quarter spurt.

"“I really think in the first quarter we shared the ball really well,” Mosley said after Thursday’s game. “We did make shots. That second quarter we started to chase it a little bit. That hurt our defense because we started taking quick shots. Just being able to show them the importance of sharing and moving the basketball and then getting back and being able to set their defense.”"

The reality then might be that this game served its purpose. Everyone got their opportunity and their run. And the Magic got their loss.

They joined that race to the bottom and hope they can ensure their Draft Lottery position come May.

Next. 5 things the Orlando Magic still have to play for. dark

But there are still games to play and something to gain and learn on the floor. Or at least, that is the ideal. All the team can do is get back to it and learn from mistakes. Tomorrow is another day to try to learn whether it is with the starting group or this bench group.

And the hope is that the next game will be better.