No excuses: Everyone is willing to step up for the Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic had every reason to pack up and go home in their West Coast trip finale against the Denver Nuggets. The fact they didn't speaks volumes about this team from top to bottom.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic had every reason to pack up and go home. They didn't and that speaks volumes about this team's culture and identity.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic had every reason to pack up and go home. They didn't and that speaks volumes about this team's culture and identity. / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

73. Final. 122. 38. Magic Nuggets Final 01.05.24. 120

The Orlando Magic had every excuse in the book readymade for them if they wanted to take it.

Playing at altitude against the defending champion Denver Nuggets. The last game of a tough weeklong road trip.

An injury to the usual iron man of the group, Franz Wagner. Several late scratches dropped the playing roster to nine men. Anthony Black left the game after almost five minutes because he was too sick to keep going.

An 18-point deficit early in the third quarter. Did I mention going up against the defending champions who had won eight of their last nine games?

This felt like the kind of game where the fight would be enough for the Magic. A game where with all the absences and the upheaval throughout the roster, finding anything positive would be enough. Something to hold onto and hope for health when the team got back to Orlando.

You almost wanted to call this game against the Nuggets a wash and move on and pray for some health once the team returned to Orlando.

That is not how the Magic approach things. That is not who this team is. And when the chips are down, this Magic team keeps showing its true colors.

"I don't think there's any mistaking who this group is," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday's win. "We don't make excuses. We come out, we fight. Whoever steps on that floor is going to play hard, they are going to defend, they are going to play for each other and they are going to do it with a sense of love and joy for their teammates."

Mosley said Orlando was never going to make excuses for not being itself -- a team that plays hard, plays together and plays with joy. This is a Magic team defined by its effort and energy. It is defined by its unwillingness to relent or quit.

If the ball was going up and the team had a chance to win, it was going to go for it. And the team was going to embody its identity.

Still, to do it this way in these circumstances?

To see Paolo Banchero record his first triple-double with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds including hitting the game-winning free throws with six seconds left? To see Jalen Suggs drop a career-high 27 points behind seven 3-pointers?

To give up a 6-0 run to the Nuggets and concede the lead with 47.8 seconds left only to score the final four points (all from the foul line) and lock down the 122-120 win?

To do all of that? That is something special. That is something everyone can buy into. That is more than proof of concept and a shot of confidence as this team pushes forward in its playoff journey.

It takes everyone understanding their roles and having to expand and exceed those roles to make up for all of those absences.

The Magic were never going to be perfect having to feature all those new faces -- the team abandoned its paint identity once again, although it used an 18-points-in-the-paint third quarter to close the gap and get back into the game, and allowed a 116.5 defensive rating for the game -- but they would still need everyone to play above themselves.

"It says everything. It says a lot. Just the power of positive energy and just pushing each other," Banchero said after Friday's game. "We just told each other we've all we got. We're going to live with the result. We're not going to roll over and let these guys blow us out."

That started with their star players.

Everyone knew Banchero was going to have the ball in his hands. The Nuggets, like every team has this season, threw double and triple teams his way. He still found a way to elevate his game.

Banchero recorded the first triple-double of his career, scoring 32 points, dishing out 11 assists and grabbing 10 rebounds. He helped pace the team's scoring at the start of the game. But he spent most of his game trying hard to keep others involved and keep the ball moving.

That is until the end. After a few possessions where his passing to set up open shots did not work, he attacked quickly to draw a foul to tie the game. He ran the floor following a big steal from Moe Wagner to get a foul and put the Magic ahead for good with a pair of game-winning free throws.

Banchero was whatever the Magic needed whenever they needed it. As one of the few players who could create and get downhill, he used that gravity well to soak up attention and find others.

Even he was not perfect, but he stepped up and continues to carry this team through all the injuries and adversity as this young player grows his game.

Then there was Jalen Suggs building off his hot-shooting performance against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday to hit seven 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 27 points.

He said after the game that he was in a low and had to work his way out of some personal problems to get back to performing on the court. But he found his way again.

There is no bigger heartbeat for this team than Suggs. He anchored the team's defense and made several critical stops on Jamal Murray down the stretch to ensure the Magic survived for the win.

Cole Anthony had 18 of his 23 points in the second half, providing some more important driving and creation off the dribble. Moe Wagner scored 19 points and did his best to contain Nikola Jokic -- forcing six misses! after Jokic missed only five shots in his last four games.

And the defense, maligned and struggling through parts of the game, made several big plays down the stretch, including that last steal to set up Banchero's free throws and Wagner stepping up to force Murray into a wild runner as the buzzer sounded.

The team never quit fighting and never stopped believing. The message just to keep the game close and give themselves a chance to win.

"We've got some dogs, some real dogs," Cole Anthony said after Friday's win. "We fought and it was a great win. This was really a team effort. Everybody contributed who played. Every single person."

Everyone played a part. Everyone had to step up. When coach Jamahl Mosley talks about the team playing by committee this is what he means. Everyone had to work together to make this happen. Everyone had to step up their game to cover for and work together.

Everyone had to keep grinding and pushing for the win.

There were no excuses once the ball was tipped. The Magic still believed they could win and knew if they kept working they could win. Even when they went down 18. It took some superhuman efforts and another uncharacteristically strong shooting performance.

"I think it speaks volumes of the character that we have on this team," Suggs said after Friday's game. "Not only next man up, but the confidence, the trust and belief in each other. We weren't walking out there like we were going to lose this. We weren't walking out there like let's just get it over with and go home. We wanted to win the game."

But Maybe Orlando needed this bit of adversity to fully understand who it is at its core. Faced with all these absences and having to play these games still, the Magic had to strip down to what they truly are.

And that is an unrelenting team that fights together.

Next. NBA sleep Paolo 01.05.24. NBA fans are sleeping on Paolo Banchero. dark

The Magic had no excuses, they just had persistence. And that helped them bring home perhaps their best win of the season.