Orlando Magic's narrow win over San Antonio Spurs keeps team on alert

The Orlando Magic beat the San Antonio Spurs, but there are concerns moving forward in a game that should not have been close. The Magic came out flat and allowed the Spurs bring the game within three points in the fourth quarter. The Magic did good things throughout the game, but there were warning signs that nearly cost them the game that need to be cleaned up.
Orlando Magic  v San Antonio Spurs
Orlando Magic v San Antonio Spurs / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

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The bright side of ending January is the belief that the schedule will lighten up. Orlando wants to put behind a 6-8 December and a 6-10 January and start picking up some steam heading into the playoffs.

If you look at the schedule by opponent win percentage, things are set to lighten up. The Magic have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, with nine games remaining against the bottom five teams, including three each against the Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets.

That is what things look like on paper. But it will not matter if the Magic cannot take care of business on the court. That is perhaps the most important lesson for a young team -- not overlooking anyone on the schedule.

The Orlando Magic perhaps got a piece of that lesson when they lost to the undermanned Memphis Grizzlies last Friday on the road. There are no easy games in the NBA.

It seemed they had that lesson understood after a 34-21 third quarter that helped the Orlando Magic build as much as a 25-point lead over the San Antonio Spurs. But the Magic still have to take that lesson to heart.

The Magic eked out a 108-98 win over the Spurs at Frost Bank Center on Wednesday. But it was not without its shaky moments or its scares.

"We've got to be better at the end of the third, start of the fourth," Franz Wagner said after Wednesday's game. "It's fine to have a couple of lapses here and there. We've got to make sure we keep those stretches a little shorter. It's the second game in a row where we've had this now. We have to be better."

The Spurs put on a 15-0 run, holding the Magic scoreless for more than four minutes, to make it a three-point game with 3:23 to play. It felt like a repeat of Monday's third-quarter disaster when the Magic scored only 12 points to see a 16-point lead turn into a seven-point deficit heading to the fourth quarter in Dallas.

Similar to that game, the Magic found their composure. And the Spurs were a team more likely to make mistakes. Orlando made the needed shots so the team could pull away for a win. But a 26-17 fourth quarter while protecting a lead, giving up that 15-0 run and committing six turnovers is not the way to close the game.

The Magic still have some maturing to do. Even if they came away with a win this time around.

"Just knowing that it is a 48-minute game," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's game. "Our guys will continue to understand that knowing that no team is going to just lay down. We have to make sure we continue to do the right things throughout the game no matter if you are up 20 or down 10, whatever it looks like, you have to play your style of basketball and our style of basketball."

While a win is a win, if Orlando is trying to take the next step, the team has to play to its standard regardless of who its opponent is. The team has to be sharper and more poised. It has to put these kinds of games away.

There are mistakes that the Magic make that are self-inflicted, and if they want to continue to improve, they have to continue to clean up their play before it costs, as it has throughout the season.

The problems throughout the season have been free-throw shooting, turnovers and offensive rebounds. The Magic made their free throws in this game, shooting 19 for 23 (82.6 percent). But Orlando is 27th in the league in free throw percentage despite a top-five free throw rate.

That is now where the Magic nearly lost this game. But it remains a big problem as they play more close games.

This game's struggle was taking care of the ball and allowing offensive rebounds. The Magic are not good enough on the offensive end of the floor (24th in offensive rating) to give up possessions and make their defense work harder than it has to by giving up extra opportunities.

The Magic are 25th in turnover rate, showing their inability to protect the ball and value possessions. Their best offensive games come when they are not losing the ball.

Orlando is also fifth in defensive rebound rate. Opponents score the third-fewest second-chance points per game (12.6) against the Magic. But when this gets loose, the Magic get in trouble because their margin for error offensively is small.

Both came back to bite them against the Spurs.

Orlando turned the ball over 15 times against San Antonio, including six in the fourth quarter. That helped the Spurs pick up the pace, as they scored 10 points off those 16 turnovers and picked up 27 fast-break points.

Orlando also allowed seven offensive rebounds for a defensive rebound rate of 79.2 percent. In the end, it was an excellent rebounding game for the Magic. But the Spurs tallied 11 second-chance points.

The Magic got away with these mistakes because of who their opponent was in this game. San Antonio is a team that will give a lot of leeway. The Spurs committed 19 turnovers for 23 Magic points, including six turnovers in the fourth quarter.

Orlando will not be able to count on such forgiving opponents even with the way the team's schedule is set up.

"I think we just had to stay poised," Paolo Banchero said after Wednesday's win. "Something similar happened earlier in the second half against Dallas. I think we did a good job withstanding that too, we just didn't get the game. Obviously, you don't want to be in that position. They got hot, we let our foot off the gas and they got back into the game. I was proud of how we stayed together and we were able to make some key plays to finish it."

The Magic's next game is against the Minnesota Timberwolves. If Orlando makes these mistakes against Minnesota, Orlando will take another loss and lose this momentum.

This team is always playing to a standard.

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The most significant way the Magic can improve is by valuing possessions. Right now, that takes the form of rebounding and turnovers. The Magic have to give themselves more chances to score. If this is the roster moving forward, looking at these aspects of the game will be the key to their eventual success.