Orlando Magic hope health can build the continuity they have missed

The Orlando Magic have had only two lineups play more than 100 minutes together at the midpoint of the season. Finally mostly healthy, the Magic hope re-establishing continuity and consistent lineups can help right the ship.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic are hoping that some continuity and health will help the team get back on track.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic are hoping that some continuity and health will help the team get back on track. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

For one brief moment, the Orlando Magic seemed whole again.

Sunday's game against the Miami Heat felt like a clarifying moment. The months and weeks of dealing with injuries and not having the lineup the team believed it would have at the start of the season washed away. The Magic survived this dark time on the schedule and the season and came through.

They then hounded and beat up their in-state rivals. Everything seemed like it would work.

The whiplash going from a 105-87 thrashing over the Miami Heat on Sunday to a 126-99 defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday could make anyone's head spin. It was a reminder of how quickly and how much things have changed.

Notably absent from Monday's game at Kia Center were Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac as they went through injury management on the back end of the back-to-back. The Magic were whole for one game, and then it was back to piecing lineups together.

It seems like that has been on a game-by-game basis. The lineups and rotations seem entirely different every night. That is just no way to play or win.

But that is the NBA. The Magic still hope to have them ready for the long haul and managing their returns from their long-term injuries. As frustrating as that might be.

They will be back for Friday's game. And the Magic can hopefully start to build some continuity. Sunday was refreshing to see everyone healthy again and to see this team at its fullest potential. Orlando should be hoping to see more of that.

"I think it's really important just because guys have more of a feel where they should be out on the court or how they should play with this group," Paolo Banchero said after practice Wednesday. "I think it helps everybody when you have that consistency. I think we're working toward that, and hopefully, we get there."

Getting players back consistently would be quite a relief. This week's practices (Wednesday and another Thursday before they head to Memphis) are a chance to get on the floor and build some continuity again.

That has been a key element that is missing this year.

Amazingly, the Magic have only two lineups that have played more than 100 minutes to this point of the season. That is not particularly rare. But it symbolizes the Magic's inability to build consistent playing groups. That has slowed the team's growth and ability to evolve during the season.

The most-used lineup is the starting group with Anthony Black and Goga Bitadze. They have played 254 minutes across 21 games with a +6.0 net rating (111.0 offensive rating/104.9 defensive rating).

That original starting lineup from opening night is the third-most used lineup with 97 minutes across five games (109.9 offensive rating/93.4 defensive rating). You can see the struggles offensively. But the team is strong defensively overall.

The second-most used lineup is the starting group with Jalen Suggs, Caleb Houstan, Chuma Okeke, Paolo Banchero and Goga Bitadze. They have played 101 minutes across eight games for a net rating of -0.6 points per 100 possessions (112.4 offensive rating/113.2 defensive rating).

To that point, the most used lineup with Jonathan Isaac is the team's traditional bench group with Cole Anthony, Joe Ingles, Gary Harris and Moe Wagner. They have played only 71 minutes across 11 games.

The Magic need to get their consistent playing groups out there together. And that is what the team hopes a fully healthy roster can bring them.

"You would love to build in more consistent groups," coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Monday. "At the end of the day, you have to know things happen in the NBA season. That's injury, that's sickness. You have to be prepared. I think our guys have done a very good job of being prepared for the situation that they have been thrown in. That's a credit to the coaches. That's these guys putting the work in with film and concentrating on the things they need to do for this group to reach a level of success."

The NBA is always full of constant change. Every team has to adjust to injuries and absences throughout the season. It felt for the last month, the Magic were dealing with a lot more than usual. The games still march on.

Orlando has always tried to be a team that can play by committee. Mosley often talks about understanding concepts more than understanding plays. The team wants to be able to plug in players and use different combinations, sometimes without practice. They know they must be flexible as much as they value lineup versatility.

Wednesday's practice was spent getting back to basics and tightening up some things that have gotten loose just as much as it was about getting everyone back on the same page and using this now-fully healthy roster.

Having to play with guys in and out of the lineup is difficult no matter how you cut it or try to prepare for it.

"It is a challenge for everybody," Banchero said after practice Wednesday. "You've got moving pieces. Guys in and guys out. But that's the NBA. That's what we have to deal with as a team. Everyone is ready to step in. Whatever is needed, they are willing to do. You have to look at it through a lens of before the All-Star Break, there is still a lot of time left to get back everyone healthy and really make a run. We want everyone to get as healthy as they can and hopefully we can have some consistency later on."

That is what the Magic hope to see. They hope to see some consistency in their lineups and see players stick in the rotation a bit longer. They want to get back to their more regular playing groups.

Orlando is not looking past any teams on the schedule, but the team knows that it is coming to an easier part of the schedule. The Magic have the easiest schedule in the league by opponent win percentage. There are wins on the schedule.

That might be why there is less concern about where the Orlando Magic are in the standings -- 2.5 games ahead of the Chicago Bulls for eighth and one game back of the Indiana Pacers for seventh and 1.5 games behind the Miami Heat for sixth entering Wednesday's game. The Magic still feel like they can get themselves right and push up the standings.

That, of course, starts with taking care of business Friday in Memphis. The Magic hope that some health and building familiarity and consistency can help turn the season around and help the team reclaim a spot in the playoff push.

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There is still a lot of time left in the season. And the Magic have their opportunity to keep building.