Orlando Magic losing their controllables in their slip down the standings

The Orlando Magic came crashing back to earth from the feel-good of their Sunday win over the Miami Heat. The Cleveland Cavaliers got hot, but things got worse because of the things the Magic could control but did not.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic bogged down and left the door wide open for a hot Cleveland Cavaliers team to blow them out.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic bogged down and left the door wide open for a hot Cleveland Cavaliers team to blow them out. / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Final. 126. 156. Magic Cavs Final 01.22.24. 99. 38

The Orlando Magic were already down bad when they got to the final possession of the first half Monday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But they had a chance to build just a little momentum and at least give themselves an outside shot at making a run in this one.

Paolo Banchero got the ball in the corner and got Jarrett Allen to bite on a pump fake, drawing a foul and three free throws with 0.1 seconds left on the clock.

Banchero stepped up to the line and missed the first two free throws before sinking the final one before the half. The Magic trailed 72-47 at halftime.

Missed free throws might have been relatively low on the Magic's list of issues. They were virtually taken out of the game by the end of the first quarter.

But that remains a big issue for the Magic. Something they can inherently control that has let them down consistently.

What the Magic missed in their loss to the Cavs were the things they could control -- turnovers, free throws and aggression to the paint -- three big keys to their overall success. The Cavaliers took all three away. The results spoke for themselves in a 126-99 Cleveland win at Kia Center on Monday.

"We have to find more consistency," Banchero said after Monday's loss. "When we do start off rough, what can we lean on? As a team, we think it's our defense. It has been our defense. But when a team is shooting like that, you have to be able to find it on the other end. Just working through it and trying to find consistency on both ends. I think offensively, we get loose at times and don't really have a plan. Hopefully, we can change it."

The Magic know their game, and they know their identity. They know the must-do things they need to win. And the Cavaliers took them entirely out of it just as much as the Magic took themselves out of it Monday night.

The Magic faced a hot Cavaliers team and they looked a step behind what the Cavs were doing. They were down almost immediately and never got back up.

And Cleveland just took advantage of every mistake they made throughout the night.

Take turnovers for instance.

The Magic have struggled with turnovers all season. They finished this game with 15 leading to 22 Cavaliers points. But Orlando had seven in the first quarter (a first quarter the team lost 38-19, virtually ending the game before it could get started).

The Magic turned the ball over on two of their first three possessions. That helped the Cavs get out to a 7-0 lead before the Magic could even blink.

Orlando entered the game 26th in the league with a 14.8 percent turnover rate. That is something you expect from a young team. But that turnover rate has jumped in recent weeks. Since Jan. 3, when Franz Wagner got hurt, the Magic have a 14.5 percent turnover rate.

This is just not a number that has gotten better. And it just shows how young and how many mistakes the team can make.

It is something that put and kept the Magic behind. More and more, the team is not overcoming this deficiency.

"Having those types of turnovers and free throws and everything, that is all stuff we can control and we've got to be better," Banchero said after Monday's loss. "The way they were shooting the ball, you can't afford. Sometimes we have moments like that where we are able to get back in the game and today was not one of those nights. They took advantage of every opportunity."

The other part of that equation was the team's free throw shooting.

Getting to the foul line is still one of the significant factors for this Magic team and their ultimate success. Their ability to get to the free-throw line is critical to keeping their offense afloat.

Indeed, they still got to the line 30 times and 17 times in the first half. But they made only 20 in the game and only 10 of those 17 in the first half. Those missed opportunities feel especially weighty when trying to make up a deficit.

That has been a problem throughout the season.

Orlando was 26th in the league entering Monday's game in free throw percentage, making 75.8 percent from the foul line. That is not as much of a factor when the team is third in attempts per game at 26.3.

But during this swoon, the team struggled to get to the line, and those misses have stood out. Since Jan. 1, the Magic are getting only 24.2 free throw attempts per game and making only 72.6 percent of those free throws.

These are points left on the board, especially considering how close some of the Magic's losses have been. And they add up throughout the game.

When the team is trying to come back, those misses feel even more significant. They are just missed opportunities to calm a team down and regain momentum in the game.

The Cavs did not miss, making 20 of 38 from deep, taking advantage of the Magic's overhelping in the paint to find shooters in the corner. Orlando was chasing, and their self-inflicted wounds only made things worse.

Orlando struggled to get its offense going and get downhill to the paint. The usual diet of shots in the lane that Orlando leans on was not there.

The Magic scored 12 points in the paint in the first half and only four in the second quarter when there was a chance to close the gap. They ended up losing the paint 40-34. That would typically be a solid defensive effort if not for all the paint touches that generated open threes.

A lot of the credit on defense for the Cavs goes to Jarrett Allen, who locked up the paint early. On one possession, he affected three separate shots from Wendell Carter. The Magic came away from a two offensive-rebound possession with no points. That play set the tone for the game.

"Jarrett does a great job down there protecting the rim," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Monday's loss. "They funnel guys to him so you are not allowed to get down there and make easy passes. They shrink the floor, but part of it is us also making the right decision at the right time, moving it right away when you see a crowd coming off of it. They do a great job defensively, so you have to give them a ton of credit for the way in which they played."

Orlando has seen its paint scoring drop dramatically, too. Entering Monday's game, the Magic were eighth in the league, averaging 52.9 points in the paint per game. But since Jan. 3, in the last 10 games, the Magic have seen that number drop to 42.8 per game.

As much as the team has missed Franz Wagner, this is where they have missed him more. And this inability to get to the paint and score is a death knell for the Magic's offense. They have a 110.5 offensive rating in January and managed only 106.5 points per 100 possessions in Monday's loss.

These are essential things the Magic can control. This is who they are at the end of the day and what they must rely on. The Magic are still looking for that thing that makes them consistent.

That is part of the process for a young team. And three days off and two days of practice are coming at a good time to try to reset this team and get them back healthy.

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But everything still comes back to what the Magic can control. That is ultimately what matters right now to get the team out of this dip and back on track for their playoff push.