This is a different Orlando Magic team.
Yes, they still have the same core of players from last year but this team looks more hungry than ever. Last Saturday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers was the proof.
This young Magic team lost its first game of the year against the Lakers, but would face them in less than a week with a win or go home attitude. Not only did the Magic win against the Western Conference runner-ups, the game was not even close.
The Orlando Magic’s 120-101 defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers is proof this team has improved from last year. The question is, how much have they improved and what does it mean moving forward?
Coach Jamahl Mosley noted the team treated the second game against the Lakers as something like playoff practice. Playing the same team in such a short amount of time gave the team a chance to hone in on adjustments. That approach clearly worked in such a dominant win in front of a raucous home crowd.
This win looked more similar to the 116-86 blowout victory against the Houston Rockets because of how easy it seemed the Magic built the lead early and maintained it throughout the game. Unlike that game, Orlando was never really challenged Saturday.
Still, the growth was undeniable for the Magic.
"“The part about being home against the Lakers and the energy in the room and the excitement of the group was one thing that stood out, more than anything — and it’s one of those things as a coach you are happy to see — belief,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after shootaround Monday. “There is a sense of belief as that moment they walked onto the court that this is where we belong. Not jsut we’re tyring to get by and work on this that or th eother. There was belief that they stepped onto the court that this is who we are.”"
Mosley said the Magic got that confidence from being on the floor with the Lakers earlier in the week and how they competed and pushed the Western Conference finalists. Orlando was not going to back down.
The Magic lost the first game in Los Angeles by only three points, but dominated the Lakers this time in Amway Center. The Magic have not beaten the Lakers this bad since Dwight Howard left the franchise. It was the Magic’s first win over the Lakers since the Markelle Fultz triple-double game in Jan. 2020 and the first win over the Lakers at Amway Center since November 2018.
This team has improved significantly. And it is all about its approach day to day.
This Magic team was not about to lose to this team twice no matter what they accomplished in the Western Conference last year.
That means this team is different from last year.
This Magic team looks the the type of team that takes it personal when they lose games, and they look for revenge the next time that they matchup against an opponent.
Yes, it is a small sample size, but the Magic played without two of their starters and still beat one of the better teams in the NBA. That is a big deal and shows the growth of these young players. It shows they are not going to let teams beat them in the same fashion they have for the last two years. This particular team has more of a winning attitude than the two teams prior.
That has proven itself too with how the Magic responded on the road. During the team’s four-game road trip, it lost back-to-back games in Los Angeles to the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers. The Magic could have easily splintered and fallen apart facing a tough trip-ending challenge in the Utah Jazz, especially after blowing another late lead.
Instead, Orlando buckled down and found one more play to win the game and come home with a 2-2 road trip. That set up these two games at the Amway Center to continue building its foundation.
The question becomes, how much have they improved?
That question will be answered later in the the year but the team looks pretty good at this point. The team lost to two Playoff teams from last year and have beaten everyone they were supposed to beat. They have shown improvement within the first six games, establishing a clear defensive identity ranking second in the league in defensive rating.
The organization hopes this trend continues because if it does it means the Magic will be on pace to win enough to compete not only for a Play-In spot but perhaps the Playoffs. Why can’t the Magic have postseason dreams already?
It looks like the Magic took that Lakers loss as a lesson and knew they should have walked out of Crypto.com Arena with a win. Jalen Suggs was crying real tears after he missed that potential game-tying three pointer at the buzzer. This showed just how much he wants to win against premier teams in the NBA and how much this team believes it can win every night.
Seeing his passion for winning was a great sign for the Magic’s future.
This mentality of this team has changed from last year, lets see if they can keep that same energy for the entire 2024 season.