Orlando Magic have to be beyond excuses, win when the deck is stacked against them

The Orlando Magic were working against a lot of things when they finished their road trip in Atlanta. What they struggled with was firmly in their control and made their job that much tougher.

The Orlando Magic got hit with a lot entering Sunday's game. But they do not want to make excuses and they need to grow beyond them.
The Orlando Magic got hit with a lot entering Sunday's game. But they do not want to make excuses and they need to grow beyond them. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

38. Magic Hawks Final 02.25.24. 109. 125. Final. 92

Nobody in the NBA ever wants to use the schedule as an excuse.

Every team is going to go through difficult travel circumstances and difficult road trips. Every team is going to have games without their best players. These are the realities of the league. Everyone has some hurdle they have to overcome.

The Orlando Magic have overcome a lot of those hurdles this season. They have had to find their way and gut their way through. And they have largely done so this year.

No one on the Magic is going to panic over one loss on the back end of a road trip and the end of a three games in four nights stretch -- with a difficult traveling back-to-back that sent the team from Detroit to Atlanta on Saturday night into Sunday morning.

In the big picture of things, the Magic did not learn anything new or see some new problem emerge in their 109-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night.

The offense bogged down, the team got caught up physically and their defense cracked for too long. Dejounte Murray keyed an 18-1 run to close the third quarter that flipped the game on its head. The Magic, playing without Paolo Banchero and looking tired with each passing minute, could not find relief.

The Magic could not get production from its usually reliable bench and the team could not climb back up the hill. They got the deficit down to nine with about four minutes to play and then missed a free throw and turned it over to allow the Hawks to rebuild their lead.

The Magic were working against a lot and without a strong effort, they were not going to overcome it.

But that may be the bigger point and the bigger issue. Here is where the Magic have to improve. This is where the Magic have to grow.

What happens when it is not perfect? What happens when a key player is out? When there is a new lineup? When they are on the second night of a back-to-back?

This team is beyond excuses -- even ones as obvious as a schedule loss at the end of a road trip. They are trying to hold themselves to a higher standard. They are eyeing the Playoffs in just two months. They will not have time for excuses then, just performance.

"It's not easy, but that's what this league is about," Franz Wagner said after Sunday's game. "We don't want to make excuses. We didn't reach our standard of how we want to play today. It's one game. We have to learn from it and do better on Tuesday."

This is still something the Magic have to learn and get right. And Sunday's loss was a reminder that as mature and poised as this team has been, there are still things the team has to learn and sharpen.

Sunday's game was not the way the Magic wanted to play. They cost themselves as much as Murray and the Hawks took the game from them. It is the little focus things that mattered in the end.

Orlando can count on 20 turnovers for 21 points as a big contributor to the loss.

The team had five of those in the decisive third quarter and eight in the first half when the team had control over the game. There was another seven in the fourth quarter when the Hawks grew the lead to as much as 20 points and a critical one after the Magic cut the deficit to nine with 3:39 to play.

With such a small margin for error those kinds of mistakes became amplified. That is where the team puts its focus, not on the fatigue that might have left them a step slow.

"We're a team that does not make excuses," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Sunday's game. "We gave ourselves an opportunity. You're up at halftime so there were some things that were working. You turn the ball over 20 times for 21 points, you have to give yourself that opportunity. It's a possession game and those are opportunities you can't get back."

The Magic continually seemed to make these mistakes at the worst moments. As they tried to pull away in the first half, a spate of tournaments would derail momentum.

Then came the free throws.

Even with fatigue, there is no excuse for shooting 8 for 18 (44.4 percent) from the foul line. In a game that was tight through the middle of the third quarter, those misses prevented the Magic from building and sustaining their lead.

Both turnovers and free throw shooting have been issues the team has faced regardless of back-to-backs. They are things firmly within the team's control. Orlando is 25th in the league in turnover rate at 14.9 percent and 28th in free throw percentage at 75.3 percent, nearly counteracting the team's league-leading free throw rate.

These are the kinds of things that will cost the team in the playoffs. And the kind of things the team has to clean up. It feels like it is time for the Magic to stop making these youthful mistakes and tighten things up.

Nobody expects a team to look fresh on the second night of a back-to-back. There are always going to be slippages. Maybe the team is a step slow.

This team though struggles when they face these adverse conditions. This is where the team has to mature.

The Magic are 3-9 on the second night of back-to-backs and two of those wins came when the team was in a home-home back-to-back.

Orlando's defense, the core of its identity, slips dramatically in these situations. The Magic give up 118.2 points per 100 possessions on the second night of back-to-backs. Their season average is 112.2. That is an entirely different team.

Sunday then was at least a slight improvement. The Magic's defense did its job giving up 112.4 points per 100 possessions for the game. Orlando's defense, despite that 18-1 run, was good enough to win the game.

The question was where did the offense go? Why did it get so stagnant? Why were the Magic unable to get downhill to the paint and stick to those principles?

It could not have just been about not having Banchero.

Wagner led the team with 19 points but scored 12 of those in the first quarter as he darted toward the basket. He made 3 of 10 shots the rest of the way. The Magic as a team scored only 42 points in the paint on 42 field goal attempts.

This is the secret here then. Orlando settled for threes -- 14 for 38 from three is a solid percentage but way more threes than this team has taken during this winning run -- and did not stay on the attack. Fatigue perhaps kept the team from driving to the basket and the team left too many opportunities at the foul line.

Those cannot be excuses to this team anymore. The team has to learn to win when the deck is stacked against them. Or at least compete better.

Next. Playoff x-Factors 02.24.24. 3 X-Factors for Orlando Magic's playoff chase. dark

That is where the team still has to grow up as their playoff chase continues.