Orlando Magic learn the margin for error is narrow in Playoffs

The Orlando Magic played a back-and-forth playoff style game that came down to the final possession. The difference between winning and losing will be tight.

Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic fought hard against the Sacramento Kings. But they were one play and one shot short in a loss that felt like a Playoff game.
Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic fought hard against the Sacramento Kings. But they were one play and one shot short in a loss that felt like a Playoff game. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

109. 84. Magic Kings Final 03.23.24. 107. 38. Final

The Orlando Magic could protest all they want, but they still had work to do. They still had a chance to get an all-important win -- the only stat that matters at this time of year.

With 21.2 seconds left, Jalen Suggs got called for a foul near the mid-court line after De'Aaron Fox lost his balance with Suggs' typical physical defense. With the Magic leading by one, it was a big moment that tipped the scales in the game. Fox hit both free throws to give the Sacramento Kings the lead

But the Magic still had a chance. And they gave themselves every chance to win the game.

It was just an unkind iron that kept them from celebrating and left them stewing what felt like a major playoff-like loss.

It started with Paolo Banchero getting double-teamed and making a quick pass to Jalen Suggs streaking toward the rim. As the defense collapsed on him, he kicked it out to Cole Anthony for an open three.


Jonathan Isaac snagged the rebound to give the Magic a second shot. As often happens with offensive rebounds, the defense was sucked into the paint. Jonathan Isaac found Franz Wagner open at the top of the key.

His shot was flat and missed off the front iron. Another clank.

But the Magic got one more reprieve. Anthony tracked down the rebound one more time, paused as if he would take another three and blew by his defender to get to the rim.

His scoop shot was no good. There was not one more rebound for the Magic this time. Time had nearly run out on their hopes.

The Magic got one more chance after Keon Ellis split his free throws. But Banchero's 3-point attempt off the inbound went off the backboard and fell no good in a 109-107 defeat at Kia Center, snapping the Magic's five-game win streak.

That is the difference between winning and losing in a playoff-like game. Being a tad too aggressive on a critical possession (not to mention critical fouls in the final two minutes that kept the Magic down two possessions) and missing shots.

Those will decide games when the Magic get to the Playoffs. The margin between winning and losing is simply that small.

"Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is just a few possessions here and there," Anthony said after Saturday's game. "Maybe three or four possessions here or there is the difference between a team getting 40 wins in a season and a team having 25 wins in a season. You key in on the details and do all you can to erase the mental lapses during the game and those help change the outcome."

Anthony pointed out to a 2-3 minute stretch where the Magic turned it over a few times or Ellis hit a big momentum-changing 3-point shot. The Kings seemed able to keep the Magic at bay for most of the second half after they took the lead.

Orlando had opportunities to cut into the lead earlier but struggled with some shot selection and turnovers that kept Sacramento ahead, including back-to-back fouls on Isaac in one of the few mistakes he made during a career night.

The Magic still answered though. They finally got the stops they needed, forcing Fox to dribble off his leg to set up a Wagner drive to cut the lead to one. After Fox missed a pull-up three, Anthony drove the lane and finished at the basket to give the Magic a one-point lead.

Even through some of those mistakes, Orlando had the chance to win. One final error on the Suggs foul put the Magic behind.

Little things can tip the scales. The lesson is to control what the team can control -- its effort and execution.

"I would just say all little things matter because sometimes you can't control certain things like what calls the refs are going to make and stuff like that," Banchero said after Saturday's loss. "You've just got to try everything you can do on your part as a team."

It is not just about the end of the game either. It is the moments throughout the game.

Orlando went five minutes a game clock time without scoring in the third quarter, giving up a 13-0 Sacramento run. That flipped a four-point Magic lead into a nine-point Kings lead. Orlando was able to get the game tied by the end of the quarter.

But the game became an uphill climb. Both teams went back and forth throughout -- with 19 lead changes and 13 ties in the game. The game had Playoff intensity.

But this stretch was a point when Orlando failed to close the door. If not for the Magic's defense, that run could have ended up much worse and the deficit much larger.

That is something to rue and think about in an otherwise hard-fought game.

"Outside of a couple of lapses tonight we played a great game," Jonathan Isaac said after Saturday's loss. "We had the lead with seconds left. It was just unfortunate how that last minute played out. We put ourselves in position to win the game and it didn't shake out for us."

But there were other things too. It was 13 turnovers that led to 19 points. 26 fast-break points sprouting off of the turnovers to make up for the Kings' poor 43.7-percent shooting for the game.

Orlando may regret some of its poor shooting and the missed opportunities throughout the game. There were open shots that did not foul. They missed five of 18 free throws, including a few that changed momentum. The Kings got to the line nine times in the fourth quarter.

In a tight game like this, those things mattered. In tight Playoff games, those moments are going to matter. They add up and it is small things that separate wins from losses.

"Mose said to us, 'Look, you all fought. We had a chance to win the game, but it's not the last possession that lost us that game,'" Anthony said after Saturday's loss. "It's not that. There are several possessions throughout the whole game where that can affect the outcome of the game. We just have to key in on the details. We had those mental lapses. It's not a few turnovers here and there. It's a lot of stuff building into the moment which puts us in that situation at the end of the game."

It is truly the small things. It is truly one or two things that can turn a game.

That is what will determine playoff games when wins feel even more important. When a series could be 2-2 or 3-1. It is the little things that will determine who takes control.

The margins between winning and losing are that small. It is one make or miss quite literally.

Next. Path to 50 wins 03.24.24. The Orlando Magic's path to 50 wins. dark

The Magic had enough to get a sixth straight win and finally snap their losing streak. So did the Kings. And the game came down to who had that one extra play.

That is what it will be in the Playoffs.