The Orlando Magic were caught in a surprisingly tight game against the Washington Wizards. They were frustrated by the Wizards' physicality and the zone defenses they kept throwing at them. A young team only has so much patience.
And so the Magic faced something they might have dreaded earlier in the season. Something they struggled with so much in those early games and their 5-5 start that seems like an entirely different team ago now.
It feels that way because this Magic team keeps growing up in front of everyone's eyes. They keep finding ways to scratch out victories. They keep solving problems in real-time.
This time, the Magic could never quite get that final distance the team needed to win comfortably. There was no running away from this team. They had to fight and figure this out.
But there was no panic either. At a certain point, Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Joe Ingles got together and broke down what the team needed to do to finally crack this team and secure the win. It was not necessarily something led by coach Jamahl Mosley.
And so the Magic made the plays they needed to so they could pull away for the win. A block here, a stop, a rebound, a patient pass, a drive ro shot. It does not have to be pretty, the team just has to figure it out.
That is what this team has been building toward. A program where players are empowered to solve and figure out problems. One where they are given the tools to make the right decisions and execute and have the power to do so.
This has been the Magic's project as much as it has been about collecting the right talent to anchor it. It is the vision the team set upon when they began this rebuild during the 2021 season and especially after hiring Mosley in 2022.
Orlando is on a franchise-record-tying nine-game win streak after defeating Washington 130-125 at Amway Center on Friday. It is a storm that has been building and a train that does not seem like it will slow down -- even when that inevitable bump in the road comes.
This is a streak that has been built not over the course of this season, but over the course of years. A product of work that they could only envision and imagine happening through some dark seasons when that light was not always so clear.
"I've seen this quote from another player and he talked sometimes you work really hard and it does not pay off right away," Moe Wagner said after Friday's win. "Obviously now everyone is asking us these questions but this has been a long-term project. We've been here for three years working on this. And you've got to somehow appreciate that. It's really hard to stack up wins in this league."
Now that vision seems clear. Suddenly, all the pieces came together late to secure the win just as they have seemingly come together to propel this team toward the top of the standings near the quarter mark of the season.
Jalen Suggs came flying in for a block after Jordan Poole tried to drive to the basket. He then recovered to rebound the kick-out three-point attempt from Tyus Jones. Orlando ran down the floor and Paolo Banchero waited, sucking in the attention as they anticipated a drive.
He flipped a pass over to Franz Wagner cutting free to the basket with nobody around him. He scored a monster jam to put Orlando up nine with a minute to play.
The Magic did not have their best game on Friday. The team had to embrace what was to them an ugly game where they struggled to get their defense right.
That is the third straight game where Orlando has felt like it left something on the board defensively. The team will have to get back to this principle.
Still, the team found a way to win. That is not an easy thing to do. And the Magic have had to find different ways to win every time they head out.
"It's showing continued growth with this group," Mosley said after Friday's win. "We're going to have to find ways to win in different ways. Tonight was one of those nights. They play a different style of basketball, they mix the defenses up. Our guys did a great job of recognizing what it was in the second half. They banded together and communicated the right way."
That is a sign of growth as much as anything else. Being able to win games in multiple ways and no matter what the game calls for is important.
Getting big games throughout the roster is too.
Orlando got 31 points from Franz Wagner to go with seven rebounds and eight assists, in addition to it being his third straight 30-point game. Paolo Banchero scored 28 points to go with 13 rebounds and seven assists. Jalen Suggs had 15 points. Joe Ingles had 14 points and seven assists. Moe Wagner had 18 points.
The team itself had a season-high 35 assists after setting the previous high of 34 against Washington on Wednesday. That is certainly a product of playing a poor defensive team in the Wizards. But they were more game defensively in this one, frustrating the Magic for long stretches before the team matched its physicality in the second half.
But that speaks to the maturity of the team too. The team shed any frustrations it might have had over those struggles to stay tied together and plot out a way to win.
That is something that has been essential to the whole project the Magic have worked on for the last three years. Everyone contributes something to the whole and it might be something different every night.
"I don't think we've ever questioned the ambition or the willingness to win on this squad," Moe Wagner said after Friday's win. "I think this is a group that is together for a reason. They like each other, enjoy being around each other and sacrifice for each other. That's what you get. Everybody works super hard. This is also not a thing that comes from one night. You have to work on this for a long time. It's exciting that we see the results right now. But we've got to stay locked in."
That is the message still. There are a lot of games left and the team's goals are not yet achieved. There is still work to do.
And the message remains that nothing can change from the work they have done to build this. Wagner repeated Friday that the vibes and energy in the training facility have not since Mosley arrived three years ago.
They have been putting in the work and working together on this for a long time. And now they are finally seeing the results.
"It's pretty special. Sometimes you don't really realize it," Banchero said after Friday's win. "You are playing these games and get to winning and get used to it. Eventually, I think a loss is going to come. But we want to keep it rolling for as long as we can. I think this is a special group and everybody understands that in the locker room. You are not surprised when you do stuff like this because we've got great chemistry and we play really well together."
There is work to do. But just as important for Mosley and the team is to take some time to recognize how far they have come and what they can accomplish together.