Orlando Magic's chess match in the Playoffs is in the details

The Orlando Magic are getting set for a battle with the Cleveland Cavaliers that will test every part of their team. They are going to learn quickly that the chess match is in the details of each move.
As the Orlando Magic prepare for their first foray into the Playoffs, they know it is about the details as much as anything to get the through and give them a chance to win.
As the Orlando Magic prepare for their first foray into the Playoffs, they know it is about the details as much as anything to get the through and give them a chance to win. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

There is a heightened energy inside the AdventHealth Training Center. Everyone can feel it.

Practices are going a bit longer as the team tries to prepare for the Playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everyone can feel the heightened focus. The team tried to spend some time Thursday getting up and down and back into a playing rhythm after six days between the end of the regular season on Sunday and Game 1 of the series on Saturday.

There is a lot of work to do. But nothing can still replace playing in the Playoffs. Everyone knows that moment is on the horizon and that it will hit this team like a brick house. All the team can do is be prepared and rise to the moment.

All the team can do is pore into the details to get themselves ready and be as ready as possible.

This Playoff test -- the first for most of this Magic roster -- is not about tailoring themselves to their opponent or even doing much different. It is about being more detailed in everything they do. That has been the biggest message during the last week.

"We are just amplifying and being more detailed on the things we're already doing," Jalen Suggs said after practice Thursday. "Our coverages, our communication, offensively, our execution and the matchups we want to get. I don't think anything we are doing is different, it's just more detailed. Which is exactly how it should be."

This is what everyone has been eager to be a part of. Everyone dreams of being in the Playoffs. Now, everyone is learning the work that it will take to be successful in this venue.

The Magic and Cavaliers saw each other plenty of times this season -- four times in the regular season and an additional time in the preseason. There is at least some familiarity between the two teams, if not little separation with the two teams splitting the four games -- and all four wins coming fairly comfortably, no game was decided by fewer than seven points.

The Magic, for their part, are doing their study on what the Cavs do and how best to beat them as they draw from that experience.

But that is where the chess match is. Both teams are honing in on the details fo what each other does.

"Nothing is too different. It's just on us now -- how detailed, how locked in and focused we have to be possession by possession," Suggs said after practice Thursday. "I think that's all it comes down to. I think the good part about it is there's nothing they're going to do that we haven't prepared for, it's all about how we're going to prepare for the moment."

But for all the details they might be studying and looking into, it will be about execution. That is where the team's study and understanding of tendencies comes in.

With both teams on heightened alert, the Magic do not want to change too much. But everyone knows they have to execute on both ends at a higher level to succeed in this series.

This is when the pressure allows players to rise to the top. Those who are dialed in and adjust quickly are the ones who are going to succeed.

Someone has to rise to the top.

"This is what brings out the best in certain players in the Playoffs," coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Thursday. "When you are able to be tightened up in what you are doing and honing in on what you're doing and you are still capable and able to do it, that's what brings out the best in teams as well as certain players."

The Magic do not yet know which players will rise to the occasion when the Playoffs begin.

They have plenty of players who have played well in pressure moments at lower levels -- like Jalen Suggs' showing in the 2021 NCAA Tournament or Paolo Banchero the next year or Franz Wagner in the FIBA World Cup. There is definitely a sense the Magic should be ready for the stage.

Nobody really knows until they get there. And so much of this year is about feeling and experiencing this environment and intensity for the first time.

It is as much about getting used to the process of the Playoffs and the physicality that will bring. Even from watching some of the Play-In Tournament games and going through the end of the season, players can already feel how much the intensity ratchets up.

That alone has forced the team to get ready for the Playoffs and the different kind of game they will see. Measuring up to those moments was at least good practice for what is coming and give the team some confidence they will meet the moment.

There is no substitute for the expereince though. And that is what the Magic are bracing for.

"As much as you can, you have them feel it through the practices, through the film sessions, through the experience of guys like Joe [Ingles] and Gary [Harris]. They have to feel it from that side," Mosley said after practice Thursday. "But there's no substitute for going through it. You have to go into that first game and then you will understand exactly what it means and what it feels like. And then from there, that's when adjustments are made and communication picks up even more. Them being able to go through it is the most important piece right now."

For now, honing in on the details will have to stand in for the team's experience. For now, the Magic need to be prepared to execute and comfortable with their details to make up for the intitial shock of Playoff intensity.

That is where the team has focused its attention so far. They know the opponent well. They know what they have to do to beat them. It is now about locking in on those details and executing them.

The Magic can beat the Cavs. They showed that in the regular season. They earned their place in the standings to get to this point. Orlando does not have to do much differently.

Now it is about eelvating their play and execution to take advantage of the work that got them here and beat the attention the Cavs will put on them.

"Coach says a lot that it's nothing different, but it is," Jonathan Isaac said after practice Thursday. "We have to take our energy level to another level. We have to take our focus and just focus on the details. We can't have breakdowns, we can't have mistakes. They will happen. How we respond to them, how we respond to the physicality of the game is going to be important. It's completely different, but it's the same thing. It's basketball and we'll be ready to play."

The team knows it will make mistakes. It made mistakes in the final week of the season. It knows it can respond to those miscues. There were a lot of lessons in how the team closed the season and how it responded Sunday to clinch that Playoff spot against the Milwaukee Bucks.

They saw how they can rise to the occasion and respond to adversity.

dark. Next. Isaac big minutes Playoffs 04.17.24. Jonathan Isaac should prepare for big minutes vs. Cavs

The Magic will need all of that and all of their prep work to succeed in the Playoffs. The chess match begins in understanding and executing the details.