Orlando Magic lay an egg in playoff test cases

The Orlando Magic clearly got frustrated with the physicality and their own poor execution. That cost them in two critical playoff tests and the two biggest games left on their schedule. The Magic have work to do to grow up.
A frustrated Orlando Magic team could not find its rhythm in another big loss to a playoff-caliber team in the Indiana Pacers.
A frustrated Orlando Magic team could not find its rhythm in another big loss to a playoff-caliber team in the Indiana Pacers. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

100. Magic Pacers Final 03.10.24. 97. 38. Final. 111

Orlando Magic fans were eager for this weekend. Everyone had the pair of games against the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers circled on their calendars, knowing these were two of the few games against direct Eastern Conference playoff competitors to prove their mettle.

If the Magic were serious about fighting for homecourt advantage, these were the games the team had to win. They had to prove, after taking care of business against some of the worst teams in the league, they could compete with the same intensity and fervor against better teams.

The kind of teams they will have to beat in the Playoffs.

Are the Magic ready for the postseason and the kind of basketball they will have to play in mid-April? They have a month to find out.

Their check-up this weekend would suggest they are not ready. It suggests this team is not ready to execute when the games get tight, when the officials let more go, and when composure and poise become paramount.

The Magic failed these playoff tests. It does not end the season or necessarily dampen their chase for the 4-seed -- the New York Knicks also lost Sunday night. But it sure raises questions about this team's ability to rise to the moment.

Their 111-97 loss to the Pacers on Sunday at Kia Center was quite simply a letdown.

"We laid an egg that second half," Cole Anthony said after Sunday's game. "I thought we had a pretty solid first quarter, even halfway through the second quarter. But then we started getting stagnant. We started turning into hero ball. It's coming from a good place. I don't think anyone is forget you, it's more I'm trying to make something happen and help the team. We have to get that flow back on the offensive side. Move that rock."

Orlando raced out to a 15-point lead in the second quarter and seemed poised for a big win. The team was moving the ball well and defending well.

Something turned though. The Magic started missing shots and the ball would get stuck in one player's hands. The Pacers' pressure defense with the Magic playing without a traditional ball-handler broke up a lot of the Magic's sets.

Soon those turnovers turned to fast-break chances for the Pacers. The imbalance led to fouls. And the lead turned into a deficit.

The Pacers took those advantages and doubled them in the third quarter, outscoring the Magic 39-21 to begin putting the game out of reach. Orlando did not have the ability to climb out of that hole.

"I think we did miss some around the rim," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Sunday's loss. "When you miss those around the rim, you get guys crashing. They threw about four over the top. Part of that is the leak out. You have to make sure, one, finish. Two, if you don't, that's where those long run outs came into play."

For a second straight game played at playoff intensity, the Magic seemed bothered with the physicality they faced. They struggled to execute their offense. Orlando might be able to claim it defended well -- Indiana scored 112.1 points per 100 possessions, well below its season average

The offense just could not find any rhythm to support them.

The Magic shot 37.5 percent from the floor and 9 for 36 from three, suggesting how much the team settled for jumpers. They had 18 assists and 13 turnovers for 21 points. A lot of their misses -- they shot 23 of 42 in the paint -- led to runouts as the Pacers snuck behind them for 27 fast-break points.

It was a wholly undisciplined effort in a lot of ways.

Not just for the fast-break points but for the fouls too. The Pacers are typically not a team that gets to the foul line. But the Magic committed 18 fouls and gave up 33 free throw attempts. Orlando's 29 free throw attempts (and 22 makes) helped keep the team afloat somewhat. But the Magic were clearly frustrated with the foul calls throughout. It knocked them off kilter.

Those free throws -- 15 in the second quarter alone -- helped keep Indiana in the game and gave the team confidence to come back. Orlando could not find that flow offensively. And they seemingly got more and more frustrated as the game went on.

"This is probably not the worst thing," Joe Ingles said after Sunday's loss. "This is how teams are going to play us the rest of the season. A couple of defenses have had success blowing stuff up and taking us out of it. I still think for a lot of the game, we got some good looks."

The Magic are going to learn very quickly that this is what the Playoffs are going to be like for them. They are seeing firsthand the intensity that those games will bring.

There are unfortunately not many opponents in direct competition left on their schedule -- the April 12 penultimate game at Philadelphia against the Philadelphia 76ers now looms much larger.

Orlando has proven it will take care of its business against teams struggling in the standings. The Magic have built their record and built their win streak late in the season on those kinds of games. There is nothing wrong with that.

But there is still something the team has to prove. It still has to win these kinds of games. And the Magic undoubtedly dropped the ball.

The NBA humbled the Magic after they were flying so high. Maybe they needed that lesson.

"We had some wins and you get comfortable," Anthony said after Sunday's loss. "That's the best part of this league, once you get comfortable you can get knocked back on your feet. I think that's what happened to us these last two games. We have to pick it back up and put it back together."

The Magic indeed got too comfortable and did not pass this test on their schedule. They will have to wait for the opportunity again.

The season is not lost by any means, of course. And many of the Magic's issues -- the poor backcourt play, the poor shooting and immaturity -- are issues the team knows well. One game does not make a season.

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But these losses sure felt significant. And left the Magic with something more it has to prove.