Orlando Magic needed to get punched in the mouth to reset

Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic took one on the chin in their loss to the Brooklyn Nets. They may have needed it.
Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic took one on the chin in their loss to the Brooklyn Nets. They may have needed it. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic knew they were going to face a loss sooner than later. They were enjoying the high of a nine-game win streak, but the NBA has a way of humbling everyone at some point. A 63-game win streak was not something realistic.

Still, nobody probably thought the Magic would come crashing down to earth as quickly as they did in their 129-101 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. That was a hard thud for this young team that was riding so high for the last two weeks.

It was not that Orlando necessarily expected to win coming into the game with a tough Orlando-to-Brooklyn back-to-back. But the team certainly expected to still hue to its principles and be itself. What was so stunning about the loss last Saturday was how quickly the Magic found themselves down by 20 and how easily the Nets scored.

For those who watched the previous week's games against the speedy Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards, this felt like it was a long time coming. The Magic laid the seeds for such a devastating defeat. And they needed to crash back down to Earth.

"We deserved to get punched in our mouth," Cole Anthony said after practice Monday. "Even in these last couple of wins, our defense tipped off the scale. This for us is a great reset and a great opportunity to get back to our standard. On the defensive end, we have not been holding up to it. This was a great chance for us to reset and get back to the defensive team that I know we are."

Moe Wagner especially repeated that the team has to play to a standard and that it is human nature when a team is having success to let things slip. The Magic indeed struggled with its defense in wins over the Hornets and Wizards last week before that comeuppance against the Brooklyn Nets.

The Magic have indeed seen some slipping in the last week.

Orlando for the season has a defensive rating of 109.3 points per 100 possessions. But in the last four games, that has jumped to 118.9 points per 100 possessions. Orlando still went 3-1 in those games, but the team understood things were not as tight as they needed to be.

The Nets then went and hung 129 points and had a 129.0 offensive rating, a mark that only the Nets could beat in the other matchup at Barclays Center.

Orlando has given up more than 115.0 points per 100 possessions in four of the past six games. Teams only reached that mark against the Magic's defense three times in the previous 14 games.

It is clear to see where the team's priorities were for two days of practice. And it was not just about the team's defense.

"You are going to learn from it," coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Monday. "You have to take the lessons out of it. The lesson from the past four games is we have had some slippage. You talk about us turning it over an average of 17 times, giving up 32 free throws on average over the last four or five games. Those are areas we are going to need to clean up and be better in. Our guys recognize that and that was what today was about."

Turnovers and even fouling have been issues throughout the season. And the Magic were better at lessening turnovers in the past week, even with some bad games in the process. Turnovers were not a problem on Saturday.

But the team's defense has definitely slipped and that is expressed a lot in the team's free throw rate.

For the season, Orlando is giving up a free throw rate of 29.9 percent (nearly one free throw for every three field goal attempts). During the last four games, that ballooned to 34.9 percent. For reference, the Magic lead the league with a 32.2 percent free throw rate.

And this came against the Hornets (20th in the league with a 23.6 free throw rate, but 37.9 percent against the Magic last week), the Wizards (24th with a 23.4 free throw rate but 28.6 and 37.1 percent against the Magic last week) and the Nets (28th with a 21.8 free throw rate but 30.7 percent against the Magic including 18 alone for Mikal Bridges).

When the Magic say during practice they are looking to shore up some details, these are the details they are looking to tighten up. The little things that can undermine good play. The Magic know these things have been slipping.

It is just hard sometimes to see it when the team is winning. The team may have needed a loss to come to this realization. And the team is also learning how to handle this success. Another reason to understand they cannot just get by on their talent.

Orlando has to maintain its focus to be successful against teams eager to knock them off that perch.

"I think right now we're currently a top team in the East," Anthony said after practice Monday. "I think teams are looking at us like these dudes think they're hot, let's punch them in the mouth. That's what happened last game. I think we have to get back to being the aggressors, getting back to punching people in the mouth first and just get back to our game."

Things have undoubtedly changed for the Magic. They are a different team that is viewed differently around the league. And that means the team has to be tigher and more precise. If Orlando wants to keep building on this win streak, it will take a return to these key principles.

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The Magic needed a wake-up call. They all seemed to sense that. And two days of practice may have tightened the belt to get them back on track.