Orlando Magic find their flow with return to regular rotation

The Orlando Magic have committed to doing whatever it takes to win. But to win Game 3 they had to go bck to something tried and true, going back to their regular rotation to get back into the flow.
Wendell Carter returned to the starting lineup and immediately set a physical tone that got the Orlando Magic back into their groove.
Wendell Carter returned to the starting lineup and immediately set a physical tone that got the Orlando Magic back into their groove. / Rich Storry/GettyImages

On one of the walls in the Orlando Magic's locker room is a framed paper with a promise for each player. It is something of a mission statement for the team promising to give everything to their teammates and promising to take care of each other.

This piece of paper is a promise. It is the contract the team has made to the coaching staff and to each other. No one will complain, everyone will work. They will be ready to help each other win and support each other along the way.

No matter who is on the floor, everyone is striving to work together to win. When the lineup needs to change, they will adjust for each other.

It speaks to the sacrifice and selflessness that has defined the team this year.

"I think we truly only care about winning," Markelle Fultz said after practice Friday. "I think a lot of guys get caught up in playing time. Obviously, the human nature of it, you obviously have some frustration. But we all signed a contract at the beginning of the year to understand that we are going to do what's best for the team and to put ourselves in the best position for this team to win. We believe in everybody's ability on this team. We believe whoever steps on the court can help us win."

That is the essence of who this Magic team is and the kind of game they want to play. They will find their way to find their flow. It took a while in this series, but the Magic found it with the help of a familar lineup change.

Wendell Carter, suffering from back spasms, sacrificed his starting spot in the most important game of the regular season -- the Orlando Magic's win-and-in victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the final game of the season. He still came off the bench to score seven points in a little more than 14 minutes.

Things were off though as the Orlando Magic opted to stick with that same lineup to start their series with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was not nearly as effective and the team just felt off going away from the same starting group and rotation that carried the team after the All-Star Break.

The disruption was noticeable. After two losses, Jamahl Mosley opted for a change. And the team dutifully worked to make the most of it.

The team got back to what made it comfortable this season. But at its core, the lineup worked because of this willingness to sacrifice.

"We've played together all season. We played well together and got somewhat of a chemistry together," Carter said after practice Friday. "I went into this game, telling myself whether I score two points or 20 points, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure they are not getting as many second-chance points."

Carter's stat line would not suggest he had the biggest impact in the game. He scored just two points on 1-for-4 shooting with five rebounds. But his physical presence to measure up against Jarrett Allen meant everything. He went seeking Allen to hit him and box him out, leaving the door open for others to fly in for rebounds.

The Magic outrebounded the Cavs 51-32 with 14 offensive rebounds, including nine in the first quarter (Paolo Banchero had seven on his own for the game). It was the Magic's best rebounding game of the series with a 75.0 percent defensive rebound rate (the Cavs were only at 60.9 percent).

In all, the Magic's starters outscored the Cavs 55-41 with a 137.5 offensive rating and 105.1 defensive rating in 20 minutes. That is the kind of dominance the Magic saw from that group throughout the regular season -- the group had a +12.5 net rating with a 114.7 offensive rating and 102.1 defensive rating in the regular season.

The starting group with Jonathan Isaac instead had a +5.2 net rating (106.2/101.0) in 44 minutes in nine games during the regular season. In the Playoffs, the group struggled with a -19.6 net rating (84.2/103.8) in 38 minutes. Their struggles to score just made it impossible to play.

After two losses that included two poor first quarters, the team needed to make a lineup change quite clearly. But more than that, the team needed to regain the flow and rhythm that defined their success this season.

"I think there is a rhythm to it," Mosley said after practice Friday. "There has been a rhythm throughout the year. We talked about it pregame and throughout the year, when those two groups find a rhythm playing for each other, it's fun to watch, both offensively and defensively. I think if they continue to do the right thing both offensively and defensively, we give ourselves a chance on any given night."

Mosley certainly will take some heat and perhaps learn a playoff lesson from his decision to shift the lineup as he did. But he corrected that in Game 3 and the Magic got the results for it.

It was not even just moving Carter into the starting lineup to help set a more physical tone in the paint against Allen. It was also putting the rotations back to their normal rhythm.

The Magic understood they would need to maximize Isaac's minutes to get the most out of his defensive impact this series. But putting him at center eliminated a lot of that impact.

In the Playoffs, the Magic have a 97.7 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor (in the middle of the pack for the team). But in Game 3, Orlando had a 71.0 defensive rating with Isaac on the floor.

Everything just seemed to be set right where Jonathan Isaac could fly around and block shots in a supporting role rather than having to muscle up against Jarrett Allen or Evan Mobley. It made everyone's life that much easier and established that familiar flow.

"Any time you can be on the floor with JI, obviously your defense goes up, the confidence on defense goes up," Fultz said after practice Friday. "I think just the flow. That's the special thing about this team, we have so many interchangeable players. We all support each other and we all just want to win. Whatever lineup coaches are comfortable putting out there, we all believe in it."

That belief has come in handy throughout this series. The Magic have had to overcome a lot. And the Cavaliers will certainly make their adjustments and be ready for Game 4. Every game is its own thing and Orlando will have to bring the same physicality and intensity the team rode to victory in Game 3.

Orlando Magic have to keep foot on the pedal in Game 4. dark. Next. Magic keep foot on pedal 04.26.24

The Magic though found their flow again. And returning to their comfortable rotation helped them get there.