Orlando Magic aim to keep improving as In-Season Tournament begins

Franz Wagner and the Orlando Magic rediscovered their heart in a tough back to back. But they have a lot more to show this season. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner and the Orlando Magic rediscovered their heart in a tough back to back. But they have a lot more to show this season. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic players have heard about what things are like in the In-Season Tournament so far.

The courts are . . . different with the solid coloring and different look to the in-game presentation. The games are still ramping up in intensity. It has generated at least some more interest in fans — the NBA announced that viewership for Friday’s In-Season Tournament games on ESPN were up 55 percent from a similar broadcast window last year.

So here it is. The Magic are one of three teams that have not yet played an In-Season Tournament game. They will make their tournament debut Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets.

The Orlando Magic will make their In-Season Tournament debut Tuesday. While the game will have added importance, the Magic’s goal is to continue their path of improvement and focus.

While the games do feel different — they certainly look different because of the specialty courts — they are still part of the regular season. The intensity might be ramped up some as everyone gets a feel for these games and their importance, the coaching staff is trying to get its young team to focus on the details of the individual game and continue to grow and improve as they have done all season.

"“I think the guys are definitely ready,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Monday. “They are watching the games on TV. They are seeing the different couts and what it looks like. They have heard a couple of guys and couple of teams talkinga bou the intensity going up. We want to have the same level of growth and focus that we have throughout these first games. I think it’s going to be great.”"

The Magic are the kind of young team that the In-Season Tournament seems specifically made for.

Orlando has been named as a dark-horse team in East Group C by both players — Anthony Edwards and Nikola Jokic both singled them out when they made their picks for the tournament — and broadcasters have noted the Orlando Magic as a team that could end up giving the tournament favorite Boston Celtics some trouble when they play in the Magic’s final group play game Nov. 24 in a Black Friday matinee.

That game will be on NBATV and potentially a bigger national showcase. The Magic just have to get there. And that goes with the usual cliche of taking everything one game at a time.

The Magic have gotten off to a 5-4 start and have felt generally good about the team’s progress. It has beaten some quality teams — defeating the Houston Rockets on opening night before the Rockets went on their current six-game win streak and taking down the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. There are still a lot of things to clean up.

The Magic have not won or lost more than two games in a row this season — in fact, they have gone on consecutive two-game win and two-game losing streaks every game this season, making them due for a win Tuesday if that pattern persists.

Orlando is still seeking a way to be more consistent, close games late and continue building on the team’s defensive identity. As good as the Magic have been this year, they know they can still be a lot better and they are still perfecting what they have to do on a nightly basis to come out on top.

The In-Season Tournament will add some extra intensity. The games have two reasons to be important — the regular season record and the In-Season Tournament record. But the goal is still the same — to keep improving and collecting wins at this point in the season.

"“I think any time you can string wins together, obviously it being the in-season Tournament adds to it,” Mosley said after practice Monday. “I think it is a great opportunity for guys to continue to show what they are capable of doing at a high level of competition with those stakes being more for the bragging rights of that in-season [tournament].”"

That is probably what the Magic are intrigued with more. Can the team raise its intensity level or meet an added intensity level to these games? This young Magic team has not been in any pressure-packed or meaningful games.

And this game Tuesday will have meaning.

The Brooklyn Nets are already 1-1 in the In-Season Tournament, having defeated the Chicago Bulls and lost to the Boston Celtics on the road. Like the Magic, the Nets likely felt their schedule set up up for them to potentially advance because they also had both home games last.

But they need a win to stay in the hunt to advance.

To say the least, Orlando and Brooklyn are fighting for second in the group behind Boston and the chance to advance as a wild card if they can go 3-1 in their group games. For the Nets this is a must-win game.

Brooklyn has proven to be a tough team to cover so far this season. The Nets have fallen to 13th in the league in offensive rating, struggling to score in the last two games with Cam Thomas out with a sprained left ankle (he and Ben Simmons have been ruled OUT for Tuesday’s game). But this is still a potent offensive team.

One that like the Magic can spread the ball around to different shooters like Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie and Cam Johnson. Orlando will have its work cut out for it.

The Magic are also dealing with injury issues of their own. They will be without Markelle Fultz (left knee tendinitis) and Gary Harris (right groin strain) for this game although both joined the team on this trip. Mosley said Harris got on the court some during the Magic’s practice Monday, suggesting he is making progress to a return. Harris has missed the last four games with that injury.

In the end, this game is a chance for Orlando to stick to its principles and try to build on what has worked so far. The added importance of it being part of the In-Season Tournament does not change that aspect of the team’s development and growth.

"“I think every single game we continue to get better,” Mosley said after practice Monday. “We continue to work on the things that we need to do. Obviously that becomes part of knocking down our free throws, taking care of the basketball, defensive rebounding the ball, crashing the grass offensively and continuing to share it. How do we continue to get better of sharing the basketball, moving the basketball and trusting each other as a team.”"

The Magic are certainly using this opportunity to work on themselves and continue their development and growth.

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Something though will undoubtedly be different about their game Tuesday night in Brooklyn. There is no doubt about it. The game will have an added intensity. And the Magic will be trying to learn how to respond to that added intensity.

It will be part of the team’s journey and growth this season.