Orlando Magic are playing against themselves in preparation for Playoffs

The Orlando Magic are more than capable of taking care of business against teams like the Toronto Raptors. Their challenge in their preparation for the Playoffs is to meet their standard and the challenges they will face when they reach the postseason.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic had an uneven game. Just because they won comfortable does not mean they made their standard.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic had an uneven game. Just because they won comfortable does not mean they made their standard. / John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

38. Magic Raptors Final 03.15.24. 103. 81. Final. 113

Paolo Banchero was brilliant for long stretches of Friday's 113-103 win over the Toronto Raptors on the road.

He darted in to steal a pass for a breakaway dunk on one first-quarter dunk. He lifted up for a shot and then quickly wrapped around the defense to find Jalen Suggs for a 3-pointer on another.

His exclamation point came when he took a pass on the pick and roll and accelerated to the rim for a one-handed jam. It was the kind of play that can get everyone off their feet.

Banchero put up an impressive-looking 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, flirting with his second career triple-double and putting all of his abilities on full display.

That is what the Magic needed. The game called for Banchero to be a passer, absorbing pressure and getting the ball kicking around the horn to open shooters. He is willing to be that passer and the Magic's offense flourished for long stretches.

In the tell-tale third quarter, Banchero scored 11 points and dished out half of those eight assists. Orlando came out of the locker room and put its stamp on the game to pull away and never quite look back

Orlando kept plowing through and finding a way to score and stay in the lead despite these setbacks.

"That's growth," coach Jamahl Mosley said. "That's who he is though. He is a young man who is able to recognize how the game is being played and not put his head down and get discouraged. He knows how much we believe in him, he knows how much his teammates and what he is capable of doing. And that's what we saw there."

But that may be the point. The Magic know what they are capable of and when the team does not reach that level of attention and intensity, something feels missing.

The first half was rough and disjointed. The Magic were never fully locked in. The Raptors hung around. There were a lot of mistakes to clean up.

As brilliant as Banchero was with his overall game, he shot 5 for 15 from the floor, forcing his way into the paint and missing shots at the rim against a crowded defense. He had six turnovers in a sloppy game where he struggled to find outlets during the double teams the Raptors consistently threw at him.

The juxtaposition of Banchero having eight assists and dealing passes to supercharge the Magic offense to his six turnovers leading directly to the Raptors' fast-break opportunities to keep them in the game hints directly at the problem the Magic faced in this 10-point victory.

Orlando is a Playoff team. The Magic are capable of playing sloppily and still winning with some comfort against teams at the bottom of the standings. They have played plenty of those in the last few weeks (and still have two more before a string of four postseason teams from the Western Conference come into the Kia Center.

But that is not the point anymore, is it? The Magic are trying to play to a higher standard. They are trying to prepare themselves for the Playoffs.

And so, games like this are more about the Magic playing against that standard. It is more about the Magic playing with the right focus and attention to detail.

Orlando won fairly comfortably in Toronto on Friday night. The Magic built as much as a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter. They locked in well enough to pull away and lead for most of the game, trailing by nine points early in the game.

Then again, the Raptors cut that deficit fairly quickly back to nine points. The game was never close enough to feel truly threatening. The Magic were always winning this game.

But not locking in and kind of lazing through the game was a bit concerning. There is a lot still to clean up.

"We have to have the right mindset coming into Sunday and every game honestly because every game matters for us," Franz Wagner said after Friday's win. "I think our approach was solid tonight. I thought the Raptors fought really hard and played a really good game. We have to be a little bit better Sunday."

It is not just that Gary Trent Jr. scored 31 points and hit 7 of 11 3-pointers. Someone had to score for the undermanned Raptors.

It is more that Orlando had 15 turnovers for 20 Toronto points. It is more that the Raptors, the league leaders in fast-break scoring, had 20 of their 37 fast-break points in the first half.

The Magic still did plenty well to win the game.

Orlando still had 52 points in the paint and held Toronto to 42 points in the paint. The Raptors were 13 for 18 on fast breaks. That left them 25 for 63 (39.7 percent) when they were not in transition. The Magic held firm to their identity and shut out the Raptors in the half-court and in the paint.

It is more that the Magic were sloppy and seemingly lackadaisical through long stretches, letting their lead sit instead of expanding it and putting the game out of reach. It was that the Magic's mistakes led directly to the Raptors' success. Toronto played well and put pressure on Orlando's offense, but Toronto was wholly reliant on Orlando's mistakes.

The Magic's attention just seemed to wonder throughout the game.

Every time it seemed the Magic were ready to pull away for the win, they would go through a spate of turnovers -- whether it was one of Banchero's six turnovers or Wagner's four turnovers (he carried the Magic with 14 of his 19 points in the first half). They would get lost in transition and lose track of shooters in transition.

This was not a team the Magic could take lightly. They were going to fight and not get put away so easily.

"We were just in this situation a year ago, I don't think you can ever lose that perspective," Suggs said after Friday's win. "To do that is not only disrespecting them, but the game. We did a good job not letitng it get to that point."

There was simply a lack of attention to detail and intensity. Assistant coach Bret Brielmaier waved away questions from Bally Sports Florida reporter Kendra Douglas at halftime about the offense and said the focus would be increasing the team's urgency on defense.

The Magic were not perfect in the second half, but they played with more urgency. That helped the Magic get final control over the game.

The Magic won the game. But the kind of lapses they had throughout would almost certainly cost them in the Playoffs. Just because they can get away with it now does not mean these problems still do not linger.

The Orlando Magic have allowed that standard to slip and it cost the team in the battles last weekend with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. That was an unfair assessment of the team's season so far and what Orlando is capable of. But it still lingers.

If this is a playoff team, there is only one measure that matters.

Nobody should be upset with the Magic picking up a win. Ultimately, that is what matters. All the wins count the same. And Orlando did not need to play clutch minutes or sweat this game.

But that is also the point. For every good thing the Magic did Friday night, they did something else that just showed a lack of urgency and attention to detail. The kind of things that will cost them in the Playoffs.

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And that is the standard the team is playing to. Orlando is playing against itself and that standard far more than an opponent like Toronto. Win or not.