Orlando Magic learned consistency, composure key from their playoff test

The Orlando Magic recovered for a win Wednesday. But the lessons from their playoff test games last week still rattle around. The team learned how key consistency and composure are to their success.

The Orlando Magic have moved on from last weekend's playoff test. But the lessons from that weekend remain for a team that is still gaining experience.
The Orlando Magic have moved on from last weekend's playoff test. But the lessons from that weekend remain for a team that is still gaining experience. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic locker room was a bit forlorn after their loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday. They had suffered a bad loss that required some soul-searching.

There was a belief they left something on the floor and a feeling they would admit in the days after that they did not bring the right attention to detail and focus, particularly coming out of the locker room at halftime.

Having that game follow the loss to the New York Knicks when the team got blitzed from the beginning and overwhelmed by the road atmosphere, forced everyone to do a lot of soul searching.

What is a young team to do? What is it supposed to do in this situation?

Coach Jamahl Mosley extolled how valuable the experience was as a learning experience. The team gained a lot from going through it. It is better to get these lessons now than to do so in a month when the games count.

But Orlando ultimately fell short, playing the team's two worst games in quite some time. The team had to sit through a lot of lessons. But all it can do, as Gary Harris chimed in so succinctly from that locker room is to keep playing (there was a saltier word in there).

The veterans know this will serve the team well, but the two losses were no reason for panic.

"Obviously, it's frustrating to lose," Joe Ingles said after Sunday's loss. "Especially the last two games, teams have come at us a bit more physical. There are times for us where we can execute better. But there's no other way for us but to watch and learn and take in those film sessions of this is what they're doing."

The games served as some reminder that the playoffs are different. The level of competition increases and the physicality increases. The Magic are going to have to find a way to work their way through it and play with the same level of composure and poise.

That was one of the big things that was missing. The Magic seemed to get knocked off course by the physical defense in those games. Everything seemed to slow to a crawl. Orlando did not play its style of basketball.

The team knew it had a lot of issues to fix.

It started with the team's offense. This was the most alarming element of the team's weekend series. The increased physicality seemed to slow the team down to a crawl and disrupt everything they did. The missed shots frustrated the Magic to no end.

A season-low 74 points against the Knicks and then 97 points against a typically permissive Pacers defense were concerning. The two games marked the first time Orlando failed to crack a point per possession in consecutive games since the end of last season, when the team sat key players with the postseason out of reach.

Orlando just looked completely out of rhythm.

"We got away from ourselves that game," Cole Anthony said after Sunday's loss. "We stopped moving that rock. We started trying to get into a lot of isolation. At times that will work. That won't work at times. That's two games straight where we shoot under 40 percent from the field. It's hard to win. We're still holding teams under their average but it's still some pivotal possessions there and we have to put the ball in the basket at the end of the day."

In the two games, the Magic played at a pace of 92.5 possessions per 48 minutes. They average 97.6 possessions per 48 minutes.

It should not take stats to show how stagnant the team was. Just watching the game it was clear how slow the team was entering its sets and completing its initial actions.

That showed up in the passing too. Orlando averages 279.1 passes and 44.0 potential assists per game, according to data from Second Spectrum. They averaged 259.0 passes and 34.0 potential assists per game in those two games.

Against the Nets on Wednesday, the Magic posted 282 passes and 45 potential assists. That just signifies how much more the ball was popping and moving. That is essential to the team finding offensive success.

The Magic though let that frustration bleed into other parts of their game. The games were more physical, and it was clear the Magic were looking to the officials for some relief.

Even though Orlando is a team that likes to play physically, they never could get the balance right. The Pacers paraded to the line in the second quarter to get back into the game. And the Magic needed to regain their composure. That is something the team still has to learn.

The Magic took some pride that against the Nets they gave up 11 free throw attempts in the second quarter to let Brooklyn climb back into the game but answered back with a stronger third quarter. Wendell Carter admitted the team let the officiating affect them briefly but they were determined to come out more focused in the third quarter.

They put the foot down in that quarter and raced ahead for the win. That is what a good team is supposed to do.

The Magic have done that throughout the season, feasting on the weak spot in their schedule to climb the standings. Orlando still controls its own destiny even for the 4-seed.

But the losses made the team feel like they were far away. It made it feel like the playoffs are a challenge even greater than they can imagine. And with how the Magic's schedule is set up, there are precious few opportunities to test themselves at a playoff level repeatedly.

The team is having to learn on its own and play to a amorphous standard rather than test themselves every night against the teams they will face in teh Playoffs.

"Those are both teams we will see in the playoffs," Anthony said after Sunday's loss. "In New York, it was that physicality. That was the level of physicality of a playoff basketball game. This game was a playoff game too. It was a crazy atmosphere. Back and forth game and they ended up getting up and we couldn't get back in. Once a team goes up 15 points, it's hard to get back in. We have to do a better job keeping it close and not letting it get out of hand."

The Magic continue to take care of their business though. They are 23-6 against teams with records below .500 (with three losses to the Atlanta Hawks, two to the Brooklyn Nets and one to the Memphis Grizzlies). There is no shame in that.

But they are going to have to defeat Playoff teams to compete in the Playoffs. They will get their next crash course in playoff basketball when they face the New Orleans Pelicans (fifth in the West), Sacramento Kings (sixth), Golden State Warriors (10th) and LA Clippers (fourth) starting Thursday as part of the team's eight-game homestand.

The Magic will have to prove themselves in that stretch and gain confidence against teams that are also going through the playoff chase.

"We've had some battles to get wins," Ingles said after Sunday's loss. "Every team in this league as you see on a nightly basis with results can play when they're going. I would hope at this point of the year and where we're sitting and what we have left that no one is getting too comfortable. I see the flip side of it of a younger team learning along the way. We'll be fine. We'll watch it. We have a pretty mature group that is pretty good at watching and learning and execute."

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Orlando learned a lot though in the team's pair of playoff-like games. For a team that has not been to the postseason before, it was an eye-opening experience for them.