Orlando Magic's 2024 season is a dream even in this final week nightmare

The Orlando Magic are limping to the end of the season. But that should not take away from what the team has accomplished and the future it has mapped out.
The Orlando Magic are still fighting for their spot in the Playoffs, hitting a late road bump in a dream season. It shows the successes and progress they have made and that there is still work to do.
The Orlando Magic are still fighting for their spot in the Playoffs, hitting a late road bump in a dream season. It shows the successes and progress they have made and that there is still work to do. / Rich Storry/GettyImages

Jalen Suggs was absolutely beaming Sunday night after the Orlando Magic defeated the Chicago Bulls. The Magic had dispatched the Bulls with relative ease, blitzing them in the first quarter. The team put itself on the doorstep of making the Playoffs, needing just one more win to clinch the spot.

Entering what promised to be a wild final week, the Magic were already seemingly looking ahead to the Playoffs and all the possibilities that lay before them.

It captured the true excitement and optimism of the moment and what this season had felt like.

"I'm not going to lie, it is so hard to stay locked in because I can't wait to play in the Playoffs," Suggs said after Sunday's win. "I'm so excited. It is something that a lot of us have never experienced before. It's a new opportunity for us all. You have to be excited. It's impossible not to get amped up, a bit nervous, all of those emotions you should feel because it's brand new. It's how much we gel and how close we are as a unit calms everyone down and locked in on the task at hand."

A lot has changed since then. Nobody wants to hear about the good times and vibes of the previous 80 games. There is only worry about what will happen in the final two.

Two losses have seemingly made all the hard work of the season to this point come crashing down. Suddenly the Magic are in danger of having to go through the Play-In Tournament to reach the Playoffs -- their postseason spot was already assured a few weeks ago.

Suggs has not lacked effort as the pressure has built up. But the team has looked off-kilter and have struggled to rise to this moment. It is another learning point and moment for this young team. If this is the cost of development for their future success, so be it.

But it has left a bad taste in everyone's mouth -- one that could get quickly washed out with a win Friday that clinches a Playoff spot or a win Sunday that potentially does the same (Orlando loses control of its own destiny with a loss Friday).

That is a frustrating state of affairs. It is a frustrating way for this kind of season to end. It has been a magical season for Orlando. One that deserves celebration and perspective.

The Magic have had a successful season in so many ways. This season has been a dream despite this final week's nightmare. The team has come so far already and set up a future that will demand the team to grow even more.

This was a season that has shown what is possible and has elevated the team's expectations moving forward.

"I don't think anyone would have expected us to make the leap this year that we've made," Magic CEO Alex Martins told the Let's Talk Magic Podcast. "I would say from our perspective, the leap that we've made has surpassed our expectations internally as well.

"If you had asked me at the beginning of the season what I would have seen as a successful year as compared to last year, if we had won 39 games, I would have been ecstatic. Here we are here with six games to play with 45 wins, the opportunity still at this stage to finish second or third in the Eastern Conference [the Magic have since been eliminated from the 2-seed]. I don't think anybody expected that, including even ourselves. You always hope for it but you never know. jeff Weltman likes to say the players will tell you what type of team you have. The players have told us this year what type of team we have. It's better than most people expected."

That is what the Magic wanted to see as they continued to establish their identity and who they are.

Paolo Banchero rose to become an All-Star. Despite the last two games being poor defensively, the Magic have the No. 3 defense in the league. Orlando still has a chance to finish third in the Eastern Conference with two games to play.

Regardless of what ultimately happens, the Magic have shown their fans and the league what is possible with them. They have shown they will be a force to be reckoned with moving forward.

So what if there is a stumble at the finish? Everyone can see the potential in this team, the clear needs they must fill and that they can compete with the top of the Eastern Conference.

Regardless of where Orlando finishes this year, the Magic should expect to be in that second tier of teams behind the title contenders next year.

If this year was about putting the team in the postseason conversation, the Magic have aced that part of the challenge. The season has been a resounding success.

It deserves some perspective through the frustration of the end of this season.

This Magic team was the last team eliminated from the postseason last year with three games to play following a 5-20 start. The team entered the offseason knowing it was capable of more.

With three games to play this year, the Magic were still fighting for home-court advantage. Falling short of that, the Magic will again know this offseason they are capable of doing more.

That deserves its praise. Orlando should be able to look back at this season as a success and as an important proving point of what they will ultimately become.

Of course, everyone wants the future to come sooner. And there is no doubt the Magic have raised the bar. That is another sign of this season's success, even though it feels like a disappointment right now. That disappointment is a sign of the team's progress.

But this time of year is all about wins. It is all about results. And that is the hard truth the Magic are learning right now.

They can relieve the pressure with one more win and return the vibes and positivity that should define this season.

But this is what growth looks like in the NBA. This felt like a free season that could run on vibes because everything they were doing was so surprising. It felt like a dream.

But the end of the season brings the reality: You are measured by your record.

And the Magic made everyone believe they could be something bigger this year. That is the standard that will follow them to next year.

The growth that seemed inevitable for this team has already begun. As much as a dream as this season has been, it is giving way to the seriousness of winning. And that requires something more.

That is the thing about the NBA and about progress. It is rarely a straight line and it does not end until you reach the mountaintop. The Magic are on their journey.

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They have experienced a lot of success already. They will count this year as a success. But there is clearly still work to do.