Orlando Magic have to win what they can control before they win in the Playoffs

The Orlando Magic are clearly capable of winning big games against quality opponents. But they trip themselves up by giving up things they can control.

The Orlando Magic struggled to break past the Golden State Warriors. But despite those issues, they had their chance to win. If they could control what they can control.
The Orlando Magic struggled to break past the Golden State Warriors. But despite those issues, they had their chance to win. If they could control what they can control. / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Magic Warriors Final 03.27.24. 93. 38. Final. 101. 41

The Orlando Magic had to be asking themselves some questions as they watched Stephen Curry put them to sleep with a step-back three that gave the Golden State Warriors an eight-point cushion with 30 seconds to play.

There were a lot of things that added up to the loss. But the late-game miscues stung and were most poignant in that moment.

With the Magic down by one and 2:41 to play, Paolo Banchero absorbed a double-team but found Jalen Suggs along the baseline for a cut before he passed it to Cole Anthony in the corner for a three. But it was too late into the shot clock for him to shoot it.

Gary Payton II made a layup to push the Warriors back ahead by three.

On the next possession, Banchero pulled up for three early in the shot clock and missed. Curry hit a hook shot and the Warriors bottled up the Magic again. That is when Curry hit the dagger with 33.8 seconds left and put the Warriors up by the final margin, 101-93.

Orlando can point to a lot of those late-game miscues and missed shots. There was a lot of poor execution and lack of awareness down the stretch.

But as coach Jamahl Mosley likes to say, games are not wholly decided late in clutch situations. It is the accumulation of the game that decides things.

Then again, that might be the actual point. The ability to work and be patient to get a good shot, even in a game when the Magic were struggling to make shots but still had a chance to win is exactly the point. It is exactly what the Magic have to improve and exactly what they have to be better at.

Those late-game miscues -- where the Orlando Magic did not get good shots unlike their loss to the Sacramento Kings on Saturday -- were part of the larger symptom of the game.

Orlando did not win the things it could control. The little things that make up possessions and lift a team up. Golden State certainly won the game and deserved it. But the Magic did not make things easier for themselves.

And as the Playoffs approach eliminating these miscues and these errors may be the key to their Playoff success and determine whether they can win these games against Playoff-level opponents.

"It's important," Banchero said after Wednesday's loss. "Those are little things that matter. Those decide whether you win or lose, especially in the postseason. We definitely have to clean up some of those."

Pick a stat that felt like it was totally in the Magic's control, they probably lost it. The Magic beat themselves in a lot of ways.

The team has long known that it may not be able to control whether it makes or misses shots. This is not a good shooting team. And they know they can rally even despite their poor shooting. Their defense will do the job to keep them in the game -- it did again Wednesday night, giving up 107.4 points per 100 possessions.

But the lack of offensive push puts a lot of pressure elsewhere. An 11-point, 3-for-22 showing first quarter even with some good looks and shots at the rim (2 for 11 in the paint), put the Magic in a deep hole that it was struggling to climb out of.

And that is where the Magic's cracks start to show.

"We can't put ourselves in that situation," Anthony said after his 26-point effort to carry the Magic through Wednesday's game. "That's us beating ourselves where we let missed shots affect the defense and affect everyone's mood and people start putting their heads down. As a unit, we've got to be ready from the jump. "

The free-throw shooting and turnovers were once again the highlight as the Magic let poor shooting frustrate other parts of the offense and leave the door open for the Warriors to come through.

Orlando can survive when it needs to wait for shots to go down. But it is hard to play well when the team is leaving points and possessions on the board.

Orlando made only 11 of 21 free throws (52.4 percent). In an eight-point game, 10 misses feel pretty weighty. Six of those misses came in the first quarter as the Magic struggled to find their offensive footing.

Those are things that the defense and the opponent have no effect on. And the Magic continued to leave the door open. Against good teams, they will make you pay.

"It comes down to the little things in this situation and the big portion of that tonight was our free throws," Mosley said after Wednesday's loss. "The free throw line shooting 52 percent and then turning it over 11 times for 19 points, those live ball turnovers hurt because then they get an early easy basket. But you've got to tip your hat to the way in which they came out and played, desperate and hungry. I think that's something we can take away from that, knowing how every team is going to come into this arena."

It is easy to see why the Magic were pressing and a little lax on defense at moments despite a strong overall game. The Warriors were able to seep into those momentary lapses and build their lead, scoring 27 points in the first quarter to take a 16-point lead after the opening frame.

Orlando's struggles to shoot then led to turnovers -- 11 of them for 19 points. The kind of turnovers that lead to points. And against the Warriors, there is no room to give up these kinds of points.

It showed too with the team's inability to get offensive rebounds. Each second-chance opportunity the Warriors got stung.

Golden State had 12 offensive rebounds for 18 second-chance points. They finished with 54 points in the paint as the Magic focused on turning Stephen Curry -- 17 points, 6-for-18 shooting, 10 assists, two turnovers -- into a passer.

These are areas the Magic have to and usually win. They fell short in major ways that cost them.

"They came up with a ton of 50/50 balls," Mosley said after Wednesday's loss. "You have to give them credit for the way in which they play -- extremely hungry, getting after it, desperate. So those 50/50 balls hurt down the stretch. And that was a big portion of that down the stretch."

The Magic still had the chance to win the game. Despite missing easy shots and free throws in the first quarter, despite turnovers and offensive rebounds, the Magic still had the ball and a chance to take the lead late.

This team's resilience and ability in an otherwise terrible game is something to be proud of. But the hole was too deep and the mistakes too many.

"The stuff that we can control is always frustrating when you don't control it," Anthony said after Wednesday's loss. "We just got to hit free throws. We're getting to the line. That's half the battle. I don't think we've been struggling to get to the line all season. But, we've just got to lock in. Whether it's the extra seconds, a deep breath or whatever it is. We just have to hit free throws. I'm guilty of it myself so I've got to work on it too."

The free throws are a great example of this and the symptom of a larger problem the team must resolve. Orlando has to control what it can control and if they do that, they have a good chance to win.

Next. Magic Playoff X-Factors 03.27.24. 4 Playoff X-Factors for the Orlando Magic. dark

In the end, the Magic can do plenty to give themselves a chance to win. But whether they win or not comes down to what they do and how they execute. They are good enough that if they control what they can control, they are likely to come out on top.