Orlando Magic have to get comfortable with discomfort ahead of the Playoffs

The Orlando Magic had things easy once again in the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets, only to see them make their run. The lesson for the Magic is to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable and uncomfortable feeling comfortable.

The Orlando Magic again faced a team eager to pressure and frustrate this young team. This time the Magic responded in a win.
The Orlando Magic again faced a team eager to pressure and frustrate this young team. This time the Magic responded in a win. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
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38. Final. 106. 147. Magic Nets Final 03.13.24. 114

Cole Anthony said after Sunday's loss to the Indiana Pacers that perhaps the Orlando Magic got too comfortable and their matchups with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers served as something of a wake-up call to what the postseason will be like.

The message from the coaching staff in this regard is to embrace this discomfort. You have to make yourself uncomfortable and make your opponent uncomfortable. That is the nature of playoff basketball. The teams that thrive in discomfort are the ones that win.

The team has to find a way to be comfortable even when things are going against them. Whether that is a run the other team is putting on them, or excess defensive pressure or dealing with officials making calls against them.

There has to be urgency and there has to be a will to impose themselves on the game. That is something Orlando is still learning.

The Magic found themselves in the same position as Sunday -- building a nice early lead behind early momentum and excellent shotmaking and passing. They fouled too much, giving up 11 free throws in the second quarter, which enabled the Brooklyn Nets to settle in and disrupt their rhythm.

Orlando got frustrated with the officiating and that did not help in a game where the refs had a short fuse, handing out five technical fouls in the game.

The Magic struggled to close the second quarter, going into the locker room with a seven-point lead rather than the 15-point gap they had built. Quite simply, they got comfortable and that ultimately made them uncomfortable.

How would they respond?

Orlando learned this lesson this time. They played with urgency and expanded their lead in the third quarter.

The Magic scored the first four points of the third quarter to re-establish their lead, forcing two turnovers in the process. They led that slip to six very briefly, but the Nets would get no closer until the dying moments of the game.

Orlando raced ahead by 14 by the midpoint of the third quarter. The team put its foot down to secure a 114-106 victory at Kia Center. The Magic did not let their discomfort bother them this time. They went out and won the game their way.

"I think we just did a really good job of controlling what we can control," Wendell Carter said after Wednesday's win. "I think in those other games we were getting caught up with the refs, which we did a little bit tonight, but I feel like we bounced back a lot quicker than those other games. We were a lot more physical than they were tonight.

"That was kind of what we were talking about after those last two games. It kind of gave us a playoff feel which is super physical and not a lot of fouls being called. Our approach coming into this game was that we're going to be the more physical team and control what we can control."

Orlando has had things easy over the last two weeks. The opponents have afforded a wide margin of error, the team has been at home and they have been racking up wins. It is easy to get comfortable.

But as Anthony pointed out, this league will knock you on your back if you get too comfortable. The Magic started getting frustrated with those things they could not control.

That was the lesson after their pair of playoff-level games this weekend.

That was the lesson again Wednesday night against the Nets. Except this time the Magic responded with their physicality and responded with their intensity.

They did not let discomfort last for long. They embraced it and figured it out.

"That's why you say there's lessons that you learn in those losses," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's win. "So, you look back at that Indiana game and you say, OK, what happened in that moment and don't get distracted. Don't let the officiating bother you, just stay focused on what we're capable of doing, defend better without fouling, take care of the basketball, take shots when you're open and that's what these guys did. Because you can always reference back to that. So they know exactly what that feels like."

The game had all the hallmarks of a Magic win.

The team moved the ball for 29 assists on 40 field goals, helping fuel a 51.9-percent shooting and 14-for-32 shooting from deep effort. Paolo Banchero led that charge with nine assists, absorbing pressure from the defense to find cutters and spacers throughout the game -- he also made all six of his shots for 21 points.

But even with the struggles defending the paint -- Orlando uncharacteristically lost the paint 46-38 -- Orlando locked out everything else. The Nets shot 7 for 26 from beyond the arc and 15 for 42 (35.7 percent) outside the paint. If not for the Magic's excessive fouling, it would have been an even poorer offensive game for the Nets.

A masterpiece this was not. The Magic still left some things to be desired as they learned from and repeated mistakes from the weekend.

But their poise to finish and withstand those mistakes stood out. Orlando always kept the game just out of reach.

"I think just following through on the message the entire day from coach early on," Jonathan Isaac said after Wednesday's win. "Just our effort and our sense of urgency. We started with that in the Indiana game, but it definitely fell off and going into the third in that game, we really didn't come out ready to play. And so, we made an urgent kind of mindset to have joy in this game. Play hard, play physical and allow ourselves to get out early. And we did that."

The Magic know there is still a lot to learn and develop ahead of the Playoffs. Everything has to be done with an eye on that now. They know the standard and the level they will have to play at to find success now. They are not playing an opponent like the Nets, they are playing to the playoff standard they are trying to set.

They know -- or they should know -- they have a lot of work to do to be ready for the future hurtling toward them in the next month (the win dropped their magic number to five wins or five Nets losses from clinching a spot in at least the Play-In Tournament).

There is still a lot of work to do to clean up the fouling, clean up the turnovers and keep up the same intensity throughout the game. They again let a lull nearly erase their hard work and the lead they built.

But unlike those previous two games, Orlando responded. The team kept the ball moving and did not let itself get stuck. They answered with some great shotmaking -- Cam Thomas even called it some "lucky shooting" in his postgame comments -- and they kept the Nets at bay.

Considering how down the Magic were after this weekend's performance, this felt like a step in the right direction.

Next. Suggs Playoff Physicality 03.13.24. Jalen Suggs eager to embrace the physicality of Playoff basketball. dark

When things got rough, the Magic dug in and that may be the biggest lesson the team needed.