2023 Orlando Magic Season Review What Went Wrong: Beating the teams you should

Jeremy Sochan and the San Antonio Spurs took it to Franz Wagner and the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Jeremy Sochan and the San Antonio Spurs took it to Franz Wagner and the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports /

Ask any player on the Orlando Magic and they will probably tell you they were actually a playoff team last season. That was certainly the vibe the team gave up in bunches throughout their exit interviews.

If not for injuries hampering them to a 5-20 start in the first quarter of the season, the team very easily could have made up the largely three-game gap facing the team throughout the latter part of the season.

If there is a reason the Magic are so boisterous about their postseason hopes and dreams at this point of the offseason, it is because of the confidence they built throughout the season. Going 29-28 to finish the season did not feel like a quick flash in the pan or a hot finish to the season, it felt like sustained good basketball.

Despite the feeling of success the Magic had this season, it is clear there is still a lot of work to do. There were some notable failures — expected failures. Young teams struggle with the grind of an 82-game season and they have slip-ups.

The Orlando Magic went through the growing pains of a young team, dropping games against the worst in the league and keeping them from jumping forward into the postseason.

The Magic had plenty of those slips. And even with the 5-20 start, Orlando can point to plenty of games that felt like they slipped through their fingers. In a season where the Magic were three games back of the final play-in spot, every game really mattered.

And far too many times the Magic dropped games they needed to have, especially against opponents that on paper the team needed to beat.

This is a common occurrence for young teams. They struggle to keep the same intensity and focus every night. Every team has slips. But the margins are smaller for a team growing like the Magic are.

And one of the biggest lessons for this season was about learning how to take care of business and win the games they should. That will be the forever struggle until Orlando establishes itself as a contending and postseason team.

Nobody is writing home about that and the Magic realize they still have a lot of things they need to improve upon. That will be addressed both with internal growth and gaining experience as well as adding players to the roster through draft, trades and free agency.

The success of the season is getting to this point of belief and trust. Something the Magic will have to sustain and build again next year.

But that gets tested when the team is the favorite or in big moments. And both in games against the worst teams in the league this year and in games where there were clear stakes, the Magic did not consistently rise to the challenge.

The facts are clear: The Orlando Magic dropped games to the Detroit Pistons (twice and then nearly a third time before a game-winning dunk from Wendell Carter), Houston Rockets (nearly twice), San Antonio Spurs (in March, no less), Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers. Those are all the teams below the Magic in the Lottery standings. A group the Magic largely separated themselves from (the Blazers and Magic were roughly the same record before the Blazers shut themselves down).

The Orlando Magic wanted to put themselves in the class with the Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls fighting for postseason positioning. But in key games — specifically a February game at home against the Pacers — the team dropped the ball.

Orlando never got to simulate playoff pressure and intensity — partly because Chicago started to separate itself from the pack later in the season — because the team dropped games that would have put the team in these pressure situations.

Essentially, this is one area where the Magic did not step up and level up. They lost a lot of “must-win” games.

It started early during the 5-20 start when the Magic dropped their season opener against the Pistons. Opening night games are toss-ups no matter who it is. That loss still hurts.

It did not help matters then that Orlando dropped a home game to Houston, giving up 24 3-pointers to one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league to fall to 2-9. They followed up two strong wins against the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns with a home blowout loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

The second loss to the Detroit Pistons was a tough one because it came on the back half of a back-to-back (against the Los Angeles Lakers at home the night before). But that loss became costly because the fight that occurred in that game likely cost the Magic the next two games too.

These were all losses that came early in the season as the team was trying to find itself. But they all proved costly. Flipping three of these games keeps the Magic in the postseason chase.

There were a few other bad losses throughout the season.

Orlando had a chance to vault over Indiana when Indiana came to the Amway Center on Feb. 25. Instead, the Magic laid an egg, losing 121-108. They did not ever catch the Pacers again. It felt like a missed opportunity and the team just fell flat, unable to execute and put themselves in a position to win the game.

Orlando opened a critical four-game West Coast road trip in March against San Antonio and lost 132-114. The Magic gave up a Spurs franchise-record 22 3-pointers. That set a poor tone for what became a 1-3 road trip (all three were close losses to playoff teams in the LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers).

That Spurs loss was the one that likely ended all hopes of making the postseason, even if the math still laid out a possible path.

There are going to be setbacks in any season. You are not always going to win the games you are supposed to win. There will be bad losses just like there are great wins.

But the challenge for the Magic is to limit these bad losses. It is to avoid these kinds of letdowns. Because these letdowns are why the Magic missed out on the postseason.

All the unbridled optimism and confidence the team is feeling is warranted. The Magic earned the expectation and belief they can make the playoffs. They know they are a playoff team.

But they let themselves down this year too. Some of that is because they just did not know what to do and the only way to learn this hard lesson is to fail and understand how close they are to that goal.

This season Orlando took on that hard lesson. It was one of the missteps this team made.

Next. What Went Right: Protecting the Amway Center. dark

It will be meaningful if the Magic have the attention to detail to correct this mistake and error next year when the team takes that important next step into the postseason.