Moe Wagner and the Orlando Magic know that their 11-5 start is nothing to pat themselves on the back for. They know there is still a lot of season left to go and that while the In-Season Tournament is a nice carrot, there is still a big part of the journey left on that front too.
They know that there will be challenges ahead. As much fun as it is right now, they will go through a lull. They are preparing and steeling themselves for that as much as anything.
The process always has to beat the results. And the Magic have been building this energy and this enthusiasm and this process it seems for three years ever since Jamahl Mosley walked through the doors.
Everyone has always been working. The energy has always been good. Now it is just coming together.
The Orlando Magic are experiencing real success after dispatching the Boston Celtics in the In-Season Tournament. It is something they are not surprised by because they have been working toward it.
So much it seems has changed for the Magic, but that part has not. And that might truly be the team's secret to this success. The team has worked gradually to improve and gain maturity and experience. But it always started with the work.
It made their ascendance seemingly inevitable. Now everyone is seeing the results of years of work and coming together to be a team that is starting to make some noise in the early Eastern Conference standings.
"I think it's never been a question whether we have the ability or not," Moe Wagner said after Friday's game. "It's a combination of energy and focus. Obviously you have to play hard every game.
"We've been doing that the last three years -- playing hard. You have got to be poised. Obviously, you have to work hard too on your skill. But then, when it gets to game time you have to play the right way and play smart and with each other and for each other. Once you do that, we have a chance to beat anyone in this league."
It is very simple to say. And the Magic had their share of big wins over the last three years ever since the Magic added Wagner late in the 2021 season. But they had never really done anything quite like this.
Not with this spotlight. Not with these potential stakes. Not with the adversity the team faced -- and put itself in -- early in the game. This is not normal for the Magic.
What feels special now is how normal it all seems.
Wagner (the elder) was instrumental in another win, scoring 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and helping the Magic storm to a 17-0 run in the third quarter to take the lead in a decisive 113-96 victory at the Amway Center to close the In-Season Tournament group play games at 3-1 and a big enough point differential to have a real chance at advancing. And the Magic have won six games in a row to boot.
It was an impressive victory for Orlando.
A marquee win that again seems to prove this team is not just a nice early-season story but truly the start of a team that could be a major factor and player as the season progresses. A marquee win against one of the best teams in the league. A marquee win in front of a raucous crowd on national television.
Was it a statement? Nobody on the team was impressed with the result as much as they were impressed with how normal it all felt. This is just a team doing its job and growing in the process.
It was never a sure thing for the Magic. The Boston Celtics built an 11-point lead after the first quarter with the team turning the ball over eight times in the quarter. Paolo Banchero said the team was probably overanalyzing how to break down Boston's tough defense and not getting into its sets consistently.
It looked like several other moments and games where the Magic struggled to find their footing.
Even after rallying to get back into the game, Orlando had a poor close to the second quarter, going into the locker room down eight points. The Magic seemed to lose some of their poise and seemed overeager to deliver a big play or knockout blow.
The Magic had to find a way back into the game again. And that is not an easy thing to do against an elite team in this league.
"When you are down, you know you have to play better," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday's game. "We turned the ball over and we fouled. All those little things, they were paying attention to. We got ourselves out of pocket a little bit worrying about the wrong things. You have to worry about what you can control and that's what we did in the second half."
Those are the things young teams typically do to fall apart. The shots were not falling, the team was turning the ball over and the team got frustrated with the whistle going in Boston's favor. That could break a team.
The Magic's struggles in second halves this year are well documented and dreaded by the fan base. But that is what is different about this team. They are learning and growing from their experiences.
They came out and put their foot down in the third quarter, winning 29-18 with that 17-0 run anchoring the team's push to get into the lead. And they never let up winning the second half 65-40, stifling Boston's offense and getting out in transition as much as finding points along the way.
As Mosley put it, the team is embracing challenges and meeting those challenges repeatedly. That is the building block for this team's success and what this team is doing better than ever.
"It just comes with the season going along," Banchero said after Friday's win. "We had some early second-half struggles in the start of the season. But that's what the start of the season is for to work through those problems. I think we've been doing a good job the past three or four games and I think we we figured it out."
Banchero said after the game the team felt like it played well defensively in the first half and only had to fine tune the team's turnovers and mistakes. The Magic worked through their problems and hashed it out in the locker room. They put a focus on trying to win that third quarter.
Saying the team should do that and displaying the poise and ability to do that is the actual challenge. And that is not what a young team can do.
That remains the most impressive part of this team's 11-5 start. The Magic continue to build and grow and learn. They continue to get challenged and tested and they continued to break through.
It is hard to believe that this team has done it because they have not done it before. But they are doing it over and over again.
The team continues to put the work in and focus in on what they do to win games and doing that repeatedly. Their success is not about the one moment the Magic had Friday night. It is about the continued work this team is putting in and has put in to build to this moment.
And maybe everyone needs to start talking about the Magic more seriously.