Orlando Magic's bad starts finally caught up with them in shocking loss

Coach Jamahl Mosley took full responsibility for the Orlando Magic's poor start in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets. But Friday's debacle was a long time coming with poor first quarters mounting.
The Orlando Magic never got themselves right and going as they fell behind early to the Charlotte Hornets.
The Orlando Magic never got themselves right and going as they fell behind early to the Charlotte Hornets. / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

115. 38. Magic Hornets Final 04.05.24. 124. 170. Final

Following the Orlando Magic's 124-115 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, coach Jamahl Mosley sat down at the press conference table and put the blame on himself.

He said he did not have his team prepared to play from the tip. They did not play with any of the intensity or energy on defense that has come to define them. That is on him and something he will have to rectify.

"Everything. Intensity. That's on me though," Mosley said after Friday's loss. "I've got to do a better job getting them prepared for what they are going to see for a team the week before had beat a very good basketball team and had been in tight ball games. I have to do a better job preparing them for what the situation was going to be tonight."

There was a lot to explain and a lot to blame after such a disappointing and disheartening loss at this stage of the season.

How else to explain a 38-23 first quarter against a now-19-win Hornets team? A team the Magic had defeated with so much ease in three previous meetings.

How else to explain an effort that was so uncharacteristic of the Magic as a whole, something that echoed their lifeless victory against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday?

How else to explain letting Brandon Miller get cooking, scoring 19 of his 32 points in the first quarter and a perfect 10 for 10 from the floor and 5 for 5 from three in the first half to put the Magic down by as much as 18 in the first quarter and leaving a difficult uphill climb the rest of the way?

How else to explain the Hornets shooting 59.7 percent from the floor, 15 for 30 from three and putting up the most points against the Orlando Magic since the loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder before the All-Star Break?

Sure, teams have bad days. Sure, opponents have good shooting days. Maybe that has something to do with it. The Magic found themselves enough to climb back within four but lost their legs, missing a few shots that could have put them over the hump and giving up big shots to let the Hornets re-extend the lead.

The Hornets got going early and never relented with their shooting. It became an uphill climb the whole way one the Magic never did get over.

The first quarter stings. Pun intended. And it has stung this Magic team for a while.

The Magic have to get to the bottom of their issues. And that starts from the jump. Just as it did Friday night to disastrous results.

"That's something we all have to look at," Paolo Banchero said after Friday's loss. "I can't really give you a reason right now. I think it's an intensity thing for the most part without looking at it."

These are not questions anyone wants to ask at this stage of the season. But it is one that needs to get asked.

The Magic's starting lineup is one of the best lineups in the league, especially since the All-Star Break. The group has an overall net rating of +9.8 points per 100 possessions with a 113.4 offensive rating and a stellar 103.5 defensive rating.

The Magic's four core players joined by Gary Harris give them a good balance of interior players who can put pressure on the basket and outside shooting. It has worked and there is no reason to go away from it.

But -- and there is always a but with a statement like that -- the Magic have been playing from behind. They have been leaning on their depth to claw back into games. They have been overwhelming teams in the third quarter, seemingly adjusting to the game and finding a way to attack to blow games open.

That same starting five has a -5.4 net rating in the first quarter of games with a 103.9 offensive rating and 109.3 defensive rating. They are +14.9 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter.

If Friday's first quarter felt chillingly familiar, it is because that has been the case for a while now. The Magic have lost the first quarter in seven of their last eight games.

None were as bad as Friday's 15-point deficit at the end of the first quarter. But that felt more like the team finally getting its comeuppance for lazing their way out of the gate. The Magic's bench was not there to save them and the Magic's defense did not keep the game close.

"Bad start. Too many mental lapses. Transition points. Not physical enough. Just not our brand of basketball for a full 48 minutes," Markelle Fultz said after Friday's loss. "We hurt ourselves early and tried to play catch up. You can't do that in this league. No matter who you are playing, you have to respect your opponent and play a full 48."

The Magic are still good enough to come back and recover from first quarters. They have proven that time and again throughout this season. The Magic are confident they will respond as they have to several setbacks throughout the season.

But early deficits are a big mountain to climb. They become even bigger in the Playoffs. And to be sure, that is where the Magic have their eyes.

That early deficit forces the team to be more precise with their execution and their shot choices. It leads to Paolo Banchero having to force his offense more -- he scord 32 points to go with eight rebounds and eight assists but needed 26 shots with 10 makes to get there (his 11-for-12 shooting from the line). It puts pressure on everything, especially with such a huge deficit.

It makes every miss (the Magic were a solid 22 for 26 from the line) and every turnover -- 10 of them for 17 points -- feel bigger.

Quite simply, a deficit just makes the margin for error feel small. It makes it that much harder to make up ground.

Orlando got the lead to six early in the third only to give up a 10-1 run to be back down 15. The team got it to four early in the fourth quarter, only to give up a 10-0 run.

Playing from behind in this manner just makes it harder to win. And this is not even a Playoff team.

"How we approach and how we come out with the approach of the game, knowing what teams are doing at this point of the season," Mosley said after Friday's loss. "Whether they are above .500, sub-.500, playoff team, we've got to continue to come out with a level of focus and intentionality to what it is we're doing."

The things the Magic can get away with in the regular season are not things they can get away with in the Playoffs. Plain and simple, the Magic need to play better in the first quarter. It has been a recurring problem for the team.

Next. Magic back to the paint 04.04.24. Orlando Magic have to get back to the paint to use 3-point gains. dark

Playing from behind is a sure recipe for an early Playoff exit.