Orlando Magic have to have faith their process will net them results

The Orlando Magic have built a cushion and identity in the first part of the season. Their losing streak though is testing their commitment to their process and identity. They have to find it again until it nets them results.
Moe Wagner and the Orlando Magic are struggling to find their footing. They have to trust their process and identity even if the results aren't showing it yet.
Moe Wagner and the Orlando Magic are struggling to find their footing. They have to trust their process and identity even if the results aren't showing it yet. / Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, it felt like the Orlando Magic were simply unbeatable.

It did not matter what anybody threw in front of them, they were going to knock down all comers no matter how they needed to do it.

Need a late-game shot? Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner could deliver that. Face off against the top offense in the league? The Magic would shut them down. Come home under the pressure of the In-Season Tournament? Their defense was going to hound you with a smile. The defending champions? The Magic would stand tall.

Challenge them with a dominant offense? Even with the defense sitting fat and happy, the Magic could outscore you.

Orlando developed personality during that nine-game win streak but the team kept an even keel too. The team was determined to work and determined to keep improving. They knew there were still challenges ahead and they acknowledged when they began to slip.

But the team could see and feel what success feels like. It felt like it would never end.

Two weeks later, the Magic are at their lowest after a four-game losing streak.

The things that seemed so easy during their nine-game win streak do not feel as easy anymore. Everything is a struggle -- especially shooting it seems. And the team is going through a valley in the roller coaster that is an NBA season.

Expectations for the team have changed and so a four-game losing streak brings with it a bit of panic for the fan base.

For the Magic? It is a test of their poise and composure. It is a test to see if they can stick to what has worked for them and find their groove again.

And going up elite opponents like the Milwaukee Bucks, it can sometimes mean the process does not bring with it results.

"Honestly, that's just part of the season you know," Moe Wagner said after Thursday's game. "We talked about highs and lows when we were winning. You have to appreciate that when you are losing too. You have to stay steady emotionally, you've got to keep working. It's not all bad. It's not all wrong. There isn't a solution every day. You have to stick with it. We're a super young team. You have to give us a little more slack but hold us accountable and find that balance and we're going to be fine."

That exact message about the team's process was on the whiteboards inside the AdventHealth Training Center before Wednesday's game. The Magic are trying to be the same team regardless of their results.

And that has been one of the biggest challenges for a young team.

They know they are going through it right now where they have to "grind out some pars" and keep the boat steady until they find that rhythm again and start stacking wins.

There is a lot of confidence it will come. But it takes work and determination to get there. The team cannot panic in the process or lose faith in themselves and their identity.

That has been a struggle.

Since the end of the nine-game winning streak, Orlando has won just two of its past eight games. The team has seen some slipping going from 119.3/108.4 offensive/defensive rating during the win streak to 109.7/115.3 during this eight-game dip.

That lower defensive rating is the frustrating part. That is Orlando's identity and the team knows it can defend at a high level. Instead, it feels as though the Magic are letting their offense drain their defense.

That is what was at least mildly encouraging about the loss to the Bucks. The Magic seemed to get the message from Wednesday's loss to the Heat where their poor shooting affected their defensive organization.

The Orlando Magic held the Milwaukee Bucks to 118 points and a 113.5 defensive rating, Milwaukee's worst offensive rating since the In-Season Tournament loss to the Indiana Pacers and their second-worst since December started. The Bucks were a high-powered offense and the Magic gummed them up -- save for five minutes in the third quarter that proved decisive.

Orlando still had its chance to win in the end and it came down to missing a shot -- a frustrating end, but an acceptable one in the end.

The question for the team will be about how do the Magic respond to it all?

"It's easy to find excuses in this league for why you don't do things," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday's loss. "The great part about this group is they find a reason to do it. They find a reason to play harder, they find a reason to pull together, they find a reason to defend the right way. They take on the challenge of what we didn't do last night and they took that to heart and carried it over to tonight.

"The outcome is not what you want. But you have to keep looking at levels of growth and maturity for a group that is continuing to band together. We have a long season to go and these guys are showing growth every single step of the way."

This is the faith the team needs to have. That they can and are doing the right things and that the ball is not bouncing their way.

The Magic have had some slippage since the win streak ended. Some of it was things that were bubbling during the end of the win streak that the team was papering over.

Now the offense is not flowing as easily and Orlando is struggling to reach back and find its defensive consistency again -- the Magic have only three games better than its season average in defensive rating in the last 11 games (and the two in the last eight were the team's wins over the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers).

They have to find a way to be level even through a difficult run in their schedule. And they have to trust that they can and are doing the right things even though the results may not quite show it yet.

That is a tough thing for a young team to realize. The team has seen its poise and composure tested. And their losses to both the Heat and Bucks this week came because of momentary lapses. Just as their two losses against the Boston Celtics came because of a lack of composure.

Still, even after Sunday's game, Mosley said he was proud of how the team adjusted and learned from their frustrating defeat Friday to play better Sunday. The team recognizes it is still a group maturing and winning for the first time.

It still did not result in a win and that is what Orlando has to find more than anything right now.

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The Magic need to play their way and win. They are working on the first part. If they do that, they should win more often than not.