A lot of Orlando Magic fans asked why the team decided to give one of its precious two-way spots to Trevelin Queen over a more established name in Mac McClung. As the Osceola Magic's season has developed both Queen and McClung have turned in big scoring performances.
The decision on who to spend the third two-way slot came down to the amorphous notion of who the Magic are. They value defense and size over everything else. That was the core of who they are.
They picked Queen even though fans still ask if calling up McClung is still an option even though he is not under contract. Queen's size and defensive ability were attractive, even if his shot still needed work to crack the NBA.
It felt like a small thing anyway. The Magic had so much depth and talent that it did not seem like they would get that deep into the roster -- first-round pick Jett Howard cannot even crack the rotation.
But there Queen was playing critical minutes in Wednesday's 138-135 double overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings..
Injuries had ravaged the Magic's lineup with Franz Wagner leaving the game just five minutes into this double-overtime thriller. Several other key players were also missing -- Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz and Joe Ingles all remained out, Cole Anthony was a late scratch with a right quad contusion and Gary Harris left the game at halftime. The team was desperate.
For as much as the Magic want to talk about their culture and their team's identity, it is easy to have it when everything is going well and everyone is healthy. Culture and identity though emerge when things are hard.
The Magic had to show who they really are. They had to show what they are really about.
They needed players like Trevelin Queen, Caleb Houstan and Chuma Okeke to step into the rotation and not give away the ship. They still needed to play Orlando Magic basketball.
This is how the Magic know their culture is strong. This is how they know they are building something. Their end-of-bench players stepped in and made a difference. They showed what Magic basketball is about.
It was Queen chasing down a steal or a block after a turnover during some critical stretches in the fourth quarter simply because he would not quit on the play. In a game that went to double overtime every possession counted.
It was Okeke stepping in confidently to hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to key a 14-0 run for the Magic. It was the calm and confidence of his role and to deliver when the ball swung to him. It was everyone doing something to make an impact and provide some energy.
The Magic may not have a perfect roster -- they certainly do not as their offense bogged down into Paolo Banchero absorbing every piece of attention to score 43 points including 18 straight at one point in the fourth quarter and overtime. But they have a willingness to play hard and with intensity.
That is half the battle and that is the defining trait of Magic basketball. It is who they are at their core and that shone through as they fought back and gave themselves a chance to win.
In the fourth quarter and overtime, the Magic gave up only a 106.8 defensive rating. They fought hard on that end and made the Kings work for every moment and every inch on the court. Their effort was off the charts.
This is what Magic basketball is about. When the chips were on the table and missing so many players, Jamahl Mosley was pushing his team and squeezing every inch out of them. But this is naturally who this team is.
"I can't say enough about the group," Mosley said after Wednesday's loss. "From every person who was available, played, contributed, fought, battled and they had to dig down deep. I am so proud of the way they competed. They never let it get away from them. I told them they should be proud of themselves for the way they competed. We always talk about doing it by committee. Every person who was available played, played hard and played for each other."
The team's ultimate success depends on having the team's best players available. The Magic have had to soldier through this stretch of injuries for the last month and they have struggled -- going 5-10 since the end of the nine-game win streak.
They had a potentially breaking moment. They trailed by 16 points in the first half and looked completely disorganized. Their turnovers were feeding a Kings fast break. The team looked lost trying to make up for everything they lost.
The Magic just needed to get their feet under them. A late scoring binge in the second quarter from Banchero allowed the Magic to stay within reach. Halftime allowed the coaching staff to organize and settle everyone down.
This was the biggest test of the team's identity. With all those key players down and playing in unfamiliar lineups, could the team keep up its defensive identity and energy? Could the Magic not lose a beat and still give themselves a chance to win?
That is what the team is most proud of. And that is what has defined this team. For a group still establishing its culture, to see the team do many of the important things it has to do to win from top to bottom proved how embedded the team's identity can be.
"It was a next man up mentality," Chuma Okeke said after Wednesday's loss. "We can control what we can control and that's going out there, playing hard, sharing the ball, moving and just having fun. We didn't come away with the win but we played how we wanted to play. We did everything the gameplan told us to do. And we almost had it."
They have struggled with this in years past. Orlando has fallen apart when facing mounting injuries. They have often not found a way. Certainly not consistently.
But this team proved itself different. They struggled to get into the interior with few playmakers and attackers outside Banchero. But he soaked up the attention and found shooters. Orlando had to do something unusual -- making a franchise record 25 3-pointers -- to make up the gap.
The team was still scratching and clawing to find a way to win.
The Magic do not want to be in the moral victory business. They do not want to celebrate close defeats. There is a lot to be proud of in how so many players stepped up. But the team still has the emptiness of a loss.
The task is not any easier Friday against the Denver Nuggets to close this road trip -- and try to salvage at least one win on this trip. The team though faced this adversity and came out stronger for it. They confirmed what this group is about and the energy they play with from superstar Banchero to two-way player Queen.
The question will be whether they can reach back and do it again. The league is about consistency.
Orlando probably will not hit 25 threes per game. And the team will need a plan to attack the paint more effectively.
But no one is ever going to question this team's effort and heart. And that is the core of who this team is. Facing all the deficits and injuries this team faced Wednesday, that is the part that came through and shined. That is who this team is.