Orlando Magic earning Playoff poise, one moment at a time

The Orlando Magic struggled to get anything going in the first quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans. They did not panic though. They adjusted and raced ahead in a Playoff battle.

The Orlando Magic powered past the New Orleans Pelicans, making a major statement about their playoff readiness in the process.
The Orlando Magic powered past the New Orleans Pelicans, making a major statement about their playoff readiness in the process. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

121. 38. Final. 106. 69. Magic Pelicans Final 03.21.24

The message was the same throughout a difficult first quarter for the Orlando Magic.

Stay the course. Keep moving the ball and keep trusting their shot. The good looks they were getting would fall eventually even though the magic uncharacteristically were not getting anything at the basket.

For a while, it looked like this game was going to go the same way the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers games did. The physicality of the moment put the Magic on their back foot and they never truly recovered from those initial blows. In a game of Playoff intensity against a Playoff opponent, the team could not fight its way back.

That was the reputation on this team as they navigated and dominated the easy part of their schedule. They had to prove themselves at this level.

But the message Thursday night remained the same. Stay the course. Focus on the core defensive principles and the team's identity. Double down on what has made the team successful to this point.

The players had to lead the way and guide the team back to it. The fact they did it and found it in a 121-106 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans speaks volumes to how much the team has grown.

"Really, that was the focus was making sure we were defending and getting stops," Paolo Banchero said after Thursday's win. "That just shows how much we trust each other and how close we are. Everybody echoing the same thing. Just stay at it. Keep doing what we're doing. It's going to come."

This is the kind of focus and intensity the Magic will need in the Playoffs. The kind of adjustment and intensity this team has not yet proven it can make.

If there was a statement to make in the Magic's win Thursday it was that this team is capable of growing and adjusting to the waves of emotion in a Playoff game. It was that they can play at this level.

Pelicans coach Willie Green noted that the Magic were the more physical and disciplined team. Their size and pressure wore the Pelicans down.

The Pelicans may have punched first, but the Magic did not back down from the fight.

"It shows the growth of the group," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday's win. "The guys came in there [after New Orleans took the early lead] poised, settled the group down and we were able to sustain their run. I think that's a sign of growth for this group. Knowing what they're capable of doing and never wavering in that and knowing we had to hang our hats on the defensive end of the floor.

They are learning quickly what it will take to win in the Playoffs. Excuse them for enjoying the ride.

Orlando trailed 21-9 early in the game and were struggling to get penetration. The team was working hard to get to the paint, but New Orleans continually overloaded the strong side to try to deter Orlando from getting to the basket. That left only skip passes to the corner open -- a shot the Magic had to make and were not early in the game.

But Orlando stuck to that gameplan throughout. Eventually the shots did fall. And as the Pelicans got smaller when they brok eht elineup, the Magic found their way to the interior.

The fact the Magic stuck to this grind and kept at this gameplan was a sign of the team's growing composure and poise. The exact patience and focus the team will need in the Playoffs.

"I would say the physicality," Franz Wagner said after Thursday's win. "Making sure we use that poise when teams take something away. As we continue in the season and go into the postseason, teams will plan for what we're doing all year. We just make sure we keep everyone involved and keep playing together and we kind of have answers for that physicality. I think you can see a learning curve for the whole team in terms of that."

The Pelicans took their initial looks away, but the Magic kept answering. They found the pocket they needed to flip the game. They went on a 30-8 run to turn an 11-point deficit into an 11-point lead.

The Magic suddenly found execution a whole lot easier.

That led to the highlights that made the evening a celebration as much as anything -- every game feels that way with the highlights the Magic put up.

There was Jalen Suggs throwing a blind overhead pass to a trailing Markelle Fultz for a dunk. Or Suggs throwing a football pass to Franz Wagner to set up a layup. Or Jonathan Isaac stealing the ball to end the third quarter to feed Paolo Banchero for a breakaway dunk. Or Wagner feeding Banchero for a one-handed emphatic slam that seemed to put the game away.

Whatever struggles Orlando had early -- making only 2 of 9 2-point field goals in the first quarter -- the team quickly shed. Suddenly everything was flowing.

Those highlights are the easy thing to see. What might not be so easy to see is how the team got down and guarded after New Orleans executed too easily early in the game. They forced Zion Williamson into eight turnovers and 19 turnovers for the game.

They used those turnovers to create 20 fast-break points and 25 points off turnovers. The Magic were rolling and getting after the Pelicans at every turn.

That only fed their energy and the crowd's energy, something coach Jamahl Mosley had to recognize from the start (even without a sellout crowd for this game). This is what playoff energy will feel like.

More importantly, this is what playoff focus and intensity will have to be.

"It says so much about their growth, about their communication, about their poise," Mosley said after Thursday's win. "They understand it is a game of runs. They hit their stride early. These guys didn't panic. They didn't break at all. They understood what they needed to do. Sit down a little bit more defensively, get some early easy baskets and watch the ball go in. That changes it.

At the end of the day, what the Magic needed to learn and see was how important their poise and patience can be. They can play their brand of basketball but it has to start on defense. And it has to continue with the deliberation and poise to keep executing and trusting each other even with a physical defense in front of them.

Make no mistake, everyone knows the Playoffs are coming. They all know that this is where they are headed and the thing they will have to tackle -- literally at times.

This time the Magic answered. They answered exactly how they will have to in the Playoffs. That was the statement they needed to make and the confidence they needed to build.

dark. Next. Magic sleeping 03.21.24. Everyone is still sleeping on the Orlando Magic

That is what they showed in defeating the Pelicans one moment at a time.