Orlando Magic ready for first Playoff chase experience

The Orlando Magic have only four players with playoffs experience on their roster. Part of the chase to the playoffs and the end of the season will be about learning how to handle the intensity of the moment.

The Orlando Magic are going through their first chase for the playoffs. That means getting their minds right and trying to gain some experience of what is ahead.
The Orlando Magic are going through their first chase for the playoffs. That means getting their minds right and trying to gain some experience of what is ahead. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
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Jalen Suggs needed to get off his feet and let his body recover during the All-Star Break. He missed last Wednesday's game against the New York Knicks, nursing whatever various knocks he had. Suggs needed the extra to reset to get his mind right as much as his body right.

The return to practice felt like the first day of school again.

But he was not wholly away from basketball. Everyone might have done something to keep themselves moving. But Suggs was already anticipating the moment the team is looking to build toward this season.

He spent a lot of his All-Star Break watching back old Playoff games. Kobe Bryant's run with the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers. Kyrie Irving's 2016 run with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors 2016 run.

It was about getting a sense of the intensity and how important every possession is. He was trying to simulate and understand how that moment is going to feel like.

Suggs might be featured in TNT's promo for the NBA Playoffs -- with his constant yelling at the Kia Center crowd, making him a perfect person for the camera to hunt and promote. But he is also eager to experience the Playoffs for the first time.

There is also a clear anticipation for what is coming for the team in the final 27 games. Everyone is excited about the playoff push.

Everyone is thinking about the postseason already.

"You can feel it," Jalen Suggs said after practice Wednesday. "I think just with the attention to detail. Everyone's energy is really focused and directed toward hoop right now. I think we talked about it this morning. Just how When you get to this point of the season, it's about who does the easy and the little things at a high level. Who does them better? That all comes with attention to detail from watching film, paying a little extra attention, and being fully present in between these lines. I think it has definitely heightened up a little bit. I can feel it. It gets me excited."

The Magic are in their playoff push, and everyone can feel the anticipation for the chase ahead.

The Orlando Magic exit the All-Star Break sitting in a tie for seventh place in the Eastern Conference with the Miami Heat. They trail the Indiana Pacers for sixth by a half-game (the two teams meet up one more time in Orlando on March 10). They trail the Philadelphia 76ers by 2.5 games for fifth. They lead the Chicago Bulls by four games for eighth.

Orlando is in a strong position heading into the playoffs.

What the Magic are short on is experience. And that is experience both in terms of playoff experience -- only Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris and Joe Ingles have even played in the playoffs -- and playoff chase experience.

The team got a little taste of it last year with their late charge to get to the outskirts of the Play-In chase. But nobody has done anything like this.

That is part of the excitement building about the final 27-game push after the All-Star Break and what lies ahead. It is also part of the challenge the team is facing for the rest of this season.

A lot of the work coach Jamahl Mosley is trying to accomplish at this stage is to get the team to focus on the day-to-day and the game in front of them. They know there is a larger opportunity in front of them as a group. But they cannot get overwhelmed with the enormity of what they are doing.

So much of what the Magic worked on the last two days in practice was getting back to details and focusing back in on the task at hand. The team has a lot to learn. It starts with focusing on the small things that lead to winning.

"I think being able to focus in and hit home on the small minor details of what you know you need to accomplish to be successful," Mosley said after practice Wednesday. "For our group, it's more important that we focus on one game at a time and break it down into small segments and not try to look at the 27 games and look at game number one, which is Cleveland tomorrow."

The Magic have been trying to prepare the team for these pressure moments by focusing on the granular things they must do to succeed. Mosley has repeated the cliche of concentrating on one game at a time rather than looking at longer stretches of the season. This team is not experienced enough to take any game for granted or look too far ahead.

And so everything begins with focusing on the team's effort and attention to detail. Orlando believes that if it takes care of the things it can control, it will often come out on top. That is the most significant realization the team has to make.

The challenge of the rest of the season is to stay locked in mentally.

"I think most importantly it is mentally," Suggs said after practice Wednesday. "I think physically, your body is going to go as your mind says it is. Just preparing mentally, making sure that you are locked in every possession. We are not second-guessing anything. We know what we're running. We know what they're running. We're able to call out sets. We overcommunicate and be fully present mentally. Then our bodies will take over."

It starts with Thursday's game in Cleveland and the three-game road trip ahead -- a tricky one that concludes with a tough Detroit-Atlanta back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.

As with all things, it comes one at a time. And playoff teams know how to battle on the road -- where the Magic are 12-17 this season -- and know how to win on back to backs -- where the team is 3-8 this season. There is still a lot of growing up this team has to do.

Jalen Suggs said he tries to get words of wisdom from Gary Harris and the other veterans on the team. Everyone is trying to find hints to help them through this. And the Magic are trying to narrow the focus and keep things simple to help the team succeed in this new experience.

But the only way the Magic are going to get through this and come out the other end is to experience it. This is the only way the Magic can grow and get better for the playoff chases to come.

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Everyone is eager to go through the experience and scratch out success as the postseason chase gets real around the league.