There are a lot of things that are going to need to go right for the Orlando Magic to reach the postseason next year.
Yes, this is a young team with a seemingly promising future. Paolo Banchero is a future star in this league — as everyone seems to believe even the elite players in the league. Franz Wagner is still a player too many people are sleeping on.
The Magic have plenty of questions to answer as they get ready for the season. And nothing is assured for their success despite the steps they have taken last year. Or at least the steps they believe they have taken last year.
They certainly are still trying to get the rest of the world to believe in their potential.
Still, there is a lot for the Magic to sort through. They have to do the work to put themselves in a position to take that step up.
The Orlando Magic’s directive is to play “better basketball” and among that is having the poise and maturity to play better on back-to-backs, where the team struggled in 2023.
There are a lot of elements to doing that.
Jeff Weltman and Anthony Parker have told the media the goal for this new team is to play better and play cleaner basketball. That could mean a lot of things — from “leveling up” once again to reducing turnovers and mistakes to playing with more consistency.
Really, what the team is asking its players to do is to play with more maturity and poise. This team has been through the ringer and experienced what it takes to win on a night-in and night-out basis. They just want to see the team perform at a higher level more often.
Nowhere is this more evident than with the team’s performance on the second night of back-to-backs.
While the league is working to reduce the number of back-to-backs, this will still represent 10-plus games that the Magic cannot afford to lose — certainly not at the rate they did in 2023. On top of this, with the Magic playing a game in Mexico City, their schedule might become more condensed with back-to-backs to make up for the international travel.
There is no getting around it, the Magic wree bad on the second night of back-to-backs this year. According to John Schuhmann of NBA.com, the Magic had the largets split between their record with rest (33-36) and without rest (a league-worst 1-12).
The stats make it feel even worse.
Orlando’s overall offensive/defensive rating split was 111.3/113.7 points per 100 possessions. That was at least in the middle of the pack defensively — and everyone points out the Magic had the sixth best defensive rating after their 5-20 start at 113.0 points allowed per 100 possessions.
But on the second night of back-to-backs, the Magic posted an offensive/defensive rating split of 110.8/120.8.
At a minimum, that is certainly not the kind of defense the Magic ever want to play. They often found themselves in a hole and chasing offenses they were probably not going to catch even if the team was properly rested.
In their one win on the back end of a back-to-back — the January win over the Portland Trail Blazers — they gave up 109.3 points per 100 possessions. They can indeed play decent defense on the second night of a back-to-back, they just rarely did.
It is not surprising that a team would play worse on less rest. The median offensive and defensive rating in the NBA overall was 114.3/113.5. The Phoenix Suns’ offense (15th in the league) dropped from 114.3 to 112.4 on the second night of back to backs and the Denver Nuggets’ defense (15th in the league) dropped from 113.5 to 114.6.
These are obviously more veteran teams but it shows how the second night of back to backs will naturally lead to some slipping, but not the amount the Magic saw.
This seems like a folly of youth and Orlando had some heartbreakers on the second night of back to backs — like the team’s win streak buster in Atlanta in December and Franz Wagner’s missed floater at the buzzer in Indiana in November.
That just goes to show how much of a let-down these kinds of losses can be. They are momentum killers.
The loss to the Indiana Pacers came a day after the Orlando Magic’s buzzer-beating win over the Chicago Bulls. The loss to the Atlanta Hawks ended a six-game win streak. While the Magic burned off the next three gamesto establish the rest of their season, they did not win more than two games in a row until March.
Back-to-backs are part of the NBA. And learning how to manage them and pick up wins in the grind of the schedule is a part of the job. That is what the good teams do.
Comparable teams like the Indiana Pacers started 5-1 on the second night of back to backs as they raced ahead in the postseason chase. The team ended up finishing 7-7 with an offensive/defensive rating split of 118.0/119.5 compared to 113.8/117.1 for the whole season.
That was a likely difference between the Pacers making and missing the postseason — and certainly Tyrese Haliburton’s absence was a big part of it too. And even there, you can see whatever slippage that existed was not extensive.
The Bulls certainly held their own in back-to-backs to surge ahead in the play-in chase, going 5-9 on the second night of back-to-backs with a 108.0/110.3 split compared to 112.8/111.5 for the whole season.
And another comparable team in the Hawks finished 3-10 on the second night of back to backs with an offensive/defensive rating split of 112.0/1153 compared to 115.5/115.4 for the season.
Of course, teams are going to struggle more on the second night of back-to-backs. But in tight postseason races, these are the margins a team has to win. A team has to find its identity and hold onto it through the fatigue that comes from the grueling nature of the NBA schedule.
This is another of the many things this young Magic team has to learn how to do and how to do better.
Orlando believes it can be a strong defensive team. It certainly has an identity and style in protecting the paint and using length to deter drivers and contest shots on kick outs. But this identity clearly betrays them when fatigue sets in.
That is why the Magic lost so many of these games. Their identity was not hardened into them and something they can lean on when the odds are against them.
To play better basketball and mature more, the Magic are going to have to learn how to manage these moments. And they certainly have to perform better.