Orlando Magic have rallied with their depth, but injuries still hold them back

The Orlando Magic have impressed everyone with their abiltiy to win despite mounting injuries. The West-leading Minnesota Timberwolves caught them on an off night, showing the team still needs health to succeed.
Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic struggled to find their energy in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.
Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic struggled to find their energy in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

86. Magic Wolves Final 01.09.24. 113. 38. Final. 92

Jalen Suggs had the best summation of what he and his team went through in a 113-92 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

As he prepared to get up from the table in the Orlando Magic's media press conference room, he grabbed the box score on the table, wadded it up and threw it to the side.

Some nights in the NBA are going to be like this one. It is inevitable in an 82-game season. There are just some nights where the team's energy is off or the shots just do not fall. It happens and is no reason to panic -- unless it repeats again and again.

The Magic are just trying to find themselves again through a sudden rash of injuries. And their pathway to victory is narrow.

Availability is the best ability for any team. And even though the Magic will not want to admit it, their injuries are playing a major factor for this team.

It finally caught up to them in Tuesday's loss.

"I think we didn't play with the pace that we wanted to," Moe Wagner said after Tuesday's game. "I don't think we were active enough defensively to create turnovers to go on a run, crashing the boards as aggressively and overall we just lacked energy a little bit. That's what we do, you know. We're probably not the best shooting team in the league so we've got to create havoc. We've got to be the ones to bring the energy, the juice, and we didn't really do that."

In this game, it was a poor shooting start, something the Magic had not really experienced in the last three outings largely without Franz Wagner. Without that backstop, there was no breaking down a dynamic defensive Minnesota Timberwolves team.

Orlando found itself down 11-0 nearly right off the bat in the game. The Magic missed their first five shots and made only 3 of 11 3-pointers (27.3 percent) in the first quarter. They trailed by 17 after one quarter without that wave of momentum behind their sails.

There was just no relief in sight with Paolo Banchero, especially, struggling to start the game.

The Timberwolves proved to be a terrible matchup for this iteration of the Magic. Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert were simply too big and too dialed in for the Magic's interior defense to handle.

There is just very little the Magic can do when Banchero opens the first half shooting 3 for 13 and Jalen Suggs shoots 1 for 5. Those two have a big offensive burden to carry that is necessary for the team to win.

In the last five games, Banchero averaged 33.0 points per game and took 23.6 field goal attempts and Suggs averaged 16.2 points per game while shooting 50.0 percent on 8.4 3-point attempts per game. Everyone has had to step up for the team and it was indeed asking a lot.

Both ultimately turned things around with Banchero finishing with 18 points on 8-for-22 shooting and Suggs finishing with 20 on 8-for-14 shooting including 4 for 8 from three. But the Magic were already in a deep hole as they tried climbing out of it.

No team escapes a full season without dealing with some injuries. And sometimes those injuries come in bunches.

The growing injury list has been frustrating to watch especially after the past two years when the Magic were near the top of the league in games missed to injury.

The Magic were without Franz Wagner with his right ankle sprain. Coach Jamahl Mosley said he started doing individual non-contact work as he works his way back. That is a good sign.

But they were also without Wendell Carter for the third straight game with right knee tendinitis. Without Jonathan Isaac for the ninth straight game dealing with a right hamstring strain. Without Joe Ingles for the 13th straight game with a left ankle sprain. And without Gary Harris for the third straight game with a right calf strain.

Cole Anthony left the game at halftime as the right thigh contusion that kept him out of Wednesday's game against the Sacramento Kings flared up on him again.

All five of those players are rotation players. Even with Markelle Fultz returning to the lineup and slowly getting his way back to full speed, it is hard for any team to sustain anything for too long without a stinker.

Orlando has had to dig deep into its roster and lean on players not known for their consistency to survive. Those players have stepped up so far.

Eventually, though, the fuel tank might read empty. Eventually, the team would run up against a major road block -- like the West-leading, top-defense-in-the-league Timberwolves. Eventually, the Magic would see just how much they need some healthy bodies.

That is not an excuse, but it is undoubtedly wearing on a team that is fighting and trying to do the best it can.

"Like I told the group in there, they battled in Sacramento, they battled in Denver, they came back and battled and it is tough to come home from a road trip playing Atlanta and getting that one, and doing that with eight bodies," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday's game. "It does take its toll. It's not an excuse. The guys are not looking for excuses. We'll be better coming out against Miami. It's a day of rest will be good for our guys and the guys who are sick and the guys who are banged up. It will be good to get guys back healthy."

Orlando will not use injuries as an excuse. The team is still capable of winning. But the margin for error is simply that much smaller. And it requires a much more focused and improved effort to succeed.

The Magic, to their credit, showed some fight after falling behind by as much as 34 points. The end of the third quarter saw the team finally find some rhythm and cut into the deficit. They finally got into the interior and picked up some energy.

It started with their defense, of course, and Orlando took pride in winning the second half 55-46. How much of that was the Magic playing better and how much of that was the Timberwolves easing off the gas pedal? It had to be a mix of both.

Suggs helped key a 12-0 run in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 22 with Suggs harassing Nickeil Alexander-Walker into two turnovers before hitting five quick points. The Magic were never going to stop fighting.

"It's another chance to get better and play basketball," Suggs said after Tuesday's game. "Win or lose, we get to come out here and continue to grow as a unit. I think we responded. We come out and win the second half. For as bad as it felt and as heavy as it, we came out and responded when we were down 30 and say forget it. You have to look at it as glass half full and take these opportunities as blessings."

But looking down the bench, there was not much relief. When the game was over, there was not even a bench to empty with just eight healthy players available.

That is something a team can overcome, but not every night. The Magic finally took the brunt of those injuries. They finally did not have the reserves to get themselves out of trouble.

That is ultimately going to happen for this team until they get healthy again. Their full ptoential is still locked away. This team is just trying to survive right now.

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So the best thing to do might be what Suggs did after the game, throw it away and try to be healthier and more focused for the next one.