Orlando Magic secure their postseason spot and more by being themselves

The Orlando Magic have secured a winning record and have punched their ticket to the postseason. Those are small goals that took years to rise to. And there is so much more to achieve.
The Orlando Magic clinched their spot in the postseason but they are eager to do so much more.
The Orlando Magic clinched their spot in the postseason but they are eager to do so much more. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

38. Final. 92. 170. Magic Hornets Final 03.19.24. 112

At Tuesday morning's shootaround, Cole Anthony was taken aback to hear the Orlando Magic could clinch a spot in at least the Play-In Tournament with a win against the Charlotte Hornets. The end of the season and realizing at least a part of the team's overall goals still seemed remote.

But the postseason is hurtling toward them, ready or not.

Not to mention the Play-In was such a small thing. There are bigger ambitions to achieve with the Orlando Magic fighting the New York Knicks for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference.

Excuse the Magic for not appropriately celebrating after the fact. They know there is still work to do.

They saved their celebrations for the court where they routed the Hornets 112-92 with a suffocating defensive performance, holding them to 32 points and clowning them with plays like this one:

Yes, that is Jalen Suggs ripping the ball from Brandon Miller, igniting a fast break and finding Paolo Banchero on the run only for Banchero to return the favor with a behind-the-back pass to Suggs for three. Suggs knew he had to shoot it and he knew he had to put the cherry on top by turning around while it was still in the air.

That is the kind of audacious play a team can only make when it is dominating the game fully and playing with supreme confidence and fun.

This is how the Magic would celebrate their arrival to the postseason, by doing everything that has defined this team and its success.

Orlando led by as much as 41 points in the first half and held the Hornets to just 32 points in the first two quarters. It was every bit the defensive clinic the scoreboard looked like in the win.

The Magic did not need star-making runs from Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, although both set the tone. They got 16 points and six assists from Jalen Suggs and 21 points (19 in the first half) from Cole Anthony to bulldoze the Hornets into submission.

Orlando is indeed officially heading to the postseason. And while that is not the end destination or the goal the team wants to settle for. It is at least a stepping stone goal achieved and a clear sign the team is back to national prominence.

"Mose has been saying it from the start that we're going to be an elite defensive team," Anthony said after Tuesday's win. "I think we keep improving on the defensive end. . . . We've just got some really really good defenders on this team and we just have that willingness as a team to want to guard. That goes a long way."

In many ways, the Magic reached the postseason by playing Magic basketball. They hounded the Hornets defensively throughout with Suggs leading the charge in smothering players on both ends. He finished with six assists and three steals.

Those turnovers led to 18 fast-break points and 20 points off 17 turnovers. Orlando was turned loose and attacking downhill throughout the evening.

They moved the ball too with 32 assists on 44 field goal makes. The ball hopped everywhere when the starters were in and the Magic just feasted on shots in the paint -- 60 points in the paint on 30-for-41 shooting.

There was very little room for Charlotte to breathe throughout the evening. Orlando turned in a special defensive showing in the first half that put the game out of reach.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford noted before the game that the margin for error for his young team is thin. The Magic eliminated any hint of that margin for error fairly quickly. Orlando asserted itself with this breakneck, pressure-filled style.

They did it all with a smile on their face too. That is who the Magic are.

"They're taking full ownership of what we're capable of doing," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday's win. "That first half was special. The way in which we got into the basketball, finished possessions, forced turnovers, we were able to get out on the break and yes they were celebrating and enjoying the offensive end of the floor, but it all started with our ability to sit down and guard the right way."

The Magic have established their brand of basketball. That is the first step for any Playoff team. They have fully embraced this identity.

As unimportant as clinching a .500 season and a Play-In spot might be in the grand scheme of things, it is an important marker for the team. It is an accomplishment that speaks to the journey.

Mosley took over a team that was at the beginning of a rebuild. They won 22 games their first year and improved to 34 last year and to the doorstep of the Play-In as the last team eliminated from the postseason contention.

This year they have continued improving. And Mosley and the players credit that the team took the same approach to every day to get better. This was an accomplishment earned day by day through the work and belief they put in each other.

"I think it's really special to keep a group together," Suggs said after Tuesday's win. "We've lost small pieces. We've added small pieces. But this same core group, we've all been here. Just seeing how it was when we were losing, seeing how it was when we were struggling, continuing to find our way individually and as a unit. Now to this year, it all kind of came together. You see the camaraderie, the joy, the competitiveness and just how much everybody's grown individually and as a unit. All coming together is just beautiful to watch."

Orlando stuck with much of the same roster -- adding some little pieces here and there and one big piece in the Draft -- and stayed with the process that got them here.

The Play-In Tournament is indeed something small. But it is something.

Like during their nine-game win streak in November, the Magic aim to be greedy. They aim to stay hungry and see what else they can do.

The work is not done even with this small goal accomplished. And the Magic know there is a lot more work still to do.

"I think we continue to focus on one game at a time, continue to build our habits the right way, stick to our standard of style of play," Mosley said after Tuesday's win. "But again, knowing that we're there but not being satisfied with that because that's not what we set out to do. We set out to be playing our best basketball in March and April, and that's what we're going to continue to do on a consistent basis. Our level of work, our level of focus each and every single day that we know we need to do in order to get where we're trying to go."

Next. Magic Starting Lineup 03.19.24. Orlando Magic's starting lineup powering team to playoffs. dark

This was always the message for the Magic. They see this accomplishment as the surest sign of their growth and proof of what they are capable of. But they are not in a position to be satisfied.