Orlando Magic searching for urgency at the time they need it most

The Orlando Magic were left searching again as they lacked urgency in their loss to the Houston Rockets. They better find it as their Playoffs have already begun.
The Orlando Magic struggled to find their defensive footing and got outworked at the worst time in a loss to the Houston Rockets with major playoff implications.
The Orlando Magic struggled to find their defensive footing and got outworked at the worst time in a loss to the Houston Rockets with major playoff implications. / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Magic Rockets Final 04.09.24. 118. 169. Final. 106. 38

Jalen Suggs is rarely quiet. His play does a lot of talking. And this year, it has been loud.

He gets into your grill and does not relent. You always know when Suggs is hounding you as he seems set to be in your face for the full 48 minutes of action. And after every big shot, he lets you know.

But after the Orlando Magic's 118-106 loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, he was quiet.

The bravado that has carried him through this season and energized this team throughout was no longer present. The pressure of a playoff chase was looming over them. Every loss feels heavy and the disappointment of this defeat was weighty with the tough road ahead.

Nothing is settled for the Magic in the final week of the season, and they have the toughest road of their direct competitors.

Their playoffs have already begun. And that only makes Tuesday's gmae more confusing.

The Magic lacked the urgency this time of year requires. Orlando could only sit and reflect on that after the fact. And understand there is a lot of work left to do in the final three games and now a smaller margin for error.

"I don't think we matched their intensity as much as we needed to," Jalen Suggs said after Tuesday's loss. "It's tough. Guys are tired, guys are hurting. You can find any excuse you want. This time of the year, you got to find way sto get it done thorugh all of that. We didn't tonight. But we'll be better."

Tuesday's loss only made things more unsettled.

Suggs brought a lot of energy, but it did not bleed over to anyone else. The Magic were lifeless for much of the night defensively. They were never able to get their feet under them as the Rockets picked them apart for open threes and dug in to force turnovers and rushed shots at the rim. The offense could not keep up with each frustrated drive to the basket.

Quite simply, the postseason-eliminated Rockets outplayed the playoff-hungry Magic. The Rockets were first to every ball and were able to frustrate and knock the Magic off balance. They put the Magic on their heels. And Orlando never recovered.

The Magic may control their playoff destiny, but they were playing the Rockets' game. They were never in control.

At this stage of the season, the Magic have few excuses for this. Not after supposedly learning their lessons in a lax win over the Portland Trail Blazers last week and a disheartening loss to the Charlotte Hornets last Friday.

Both of those games felt similar to the loss Tuesday night. Orlando let off the reigns and lacked the precision to execute at the highest levels.

For a team eyeing the Playoffs and eyeing homecourt advantage, these kinds of efforts are not the ones that come from Playoff teams. These are the kind of efforts that get a team run out of the building in the postseason.

"We've got to be better," Suggs said after Tuesday's loss. "We've got to look internally and look in the mirror and answer the question are we playing as hard as possible? Am I leaving everything that I have on the floor to give ourselves a chance to win. Personally, I think I could have done a bit better tonight. I take a bit of credit especially in the first half in picking up our defensive intensity. I take that on the chin. Get ready tomorrow and hopefully go get this one."

For Orlando to be successful in the postseason, the team knows exactly what it has to do.

It starts with the team's defense as it always does. That is this team's identity. And every issue for the Magic on Tuesday started with that poor defense.

The Rockets shot 52.3 percent from the floor and 15 for 35 (42.9 percent) from three. A lot of that came from the Rockets' ability to stretch the Magic out with a 5-out offense. Orlando was not physical on the perimeter and was soft on its switching scheme. The poor communication gave up a lot of open shots, especially early when Houston built confidence.

Those are the kind of details the Magic are not supposed to be lacking at this stage of the season. This is when those details should be sharpening up. That Orlando has had to get this reminder every other game at this stage of the season is at least a bit concerning.

But that is when the team needs to double down on its identity, not seemingly abandon it. This is when the Magic have to rise to the occasion. That is the test ahead of Orlando now.

"We can't hang our heads," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday's loss. "We have to come out and go after Milwaukee tomorrow. That's what it's got to be. Take the lessons from this one, bounce back tomorrow."

Things are undoubtedly getting nervy now. Whatever cushion the Magic had to secure their spot is likely gone now. Orlando still controls its destiny, but the road ahead is difficult.

All the teams the Magic are competing against won on Tuesday. The New York Knicks defeated the Chicago Bulls to move into third. The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Boston Celtics to stay ahead for second. The Miami Heat outlasted the Atlanta Hawks in double overtime. The Indiana Pacers beat the Toronto Raptors on the road. And the Philadelphia 76ers continued to scare everyone in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Detroit Pistons.

The Magic get the Bucks and Sixers on the road before finishing with the Bucks at Kia Center on Sunday. That was as daunting a task in August as it is now with the realities of the Magic's playoff positioning.

The Orlando Magic have no more games against teams with losing records left either -- the Philadelphia 76ers have the Brooklyn Nets left as do the New York Knicks, the Miami Heat have two against the Toronto Raptors, the Indiana Pacers close with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks.

The pressure is only increasing for them.

To succeed and secure a playoff spot will require an urgency the Magic have not shown consistently. But maybe that is the kick in the teeth the team needs. Maybe the Magic need that intensity.

Their Playoffs are starting early. They better.

"On to the next one. Don't dwell on this too much," Suggs said after Tuesday's loss. "You can't stay in the past. You've got to move on. Stay where our feet are, stay where our bodies are and go get the win tomorrow."

It should not have come to this, of course. A veteran team likely would have taken care of its business and not allowed for these lapses. The Magic still have to learn to deal with this pressure. This is the year for those growing pains.

But this is not the time to think about the distant future and what this team will become. This is the time to see this team perform and make this 82-game odyssey worth it.

The Magic are letting that slip and they only have themselves to blame for it. They can get it back with the urgency and intensity they have brought all year.

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An urgency and intensity befitting this moment. The Magic have to be as ready as they can be for Wednesday. It is another opportunity for them to find it again.