Orlando Magic showing cracks under Playoff pressure

The Orlando Magic sat comfortably in the Playoff picture and in homecourt advantage for much of the season. But this final week and the Playoff pressure that has come with it is already exposing the cracks they need to repair.
The Milwaukee Bucks pushed and prodded the Orlando Magic into turnovers and mistakes that only compounded an already injured and tired team. The Magic are on thin ice heading into the Playoffs now.
The Milwaukee Bucks pushed and prodded the Orlando Magic into turnovers and mistakes that only compounded an already injured and tired team. The Magic are on thin ice heading into the Playoffs now. / Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

117. 89. Final. 99. 38. Magic Bucks Final 04.10.24

The Orlando Magic have played short-handed before. They have had to find ways to fill in and fill gaps. That is what the good teams have to do. Everybody is not going to play 82 games.

At this critical juncture with the Magic seemingly reeling and losing to the wrong teams at the wrong time as the season nears the Playoffs, they need a shot of confidence. Being undermanned only adds to the pressure.

After spending the entire season seemingly outplaying, outhustling and outmuscling everybody, the Magic seem to have nothing left. Teams seem to know how to outwork the Magic to their spots. And Orlando seems unable to execute. They seem to be trapped and unable to break through.

The limitations on this roster are becoming evident. The team is splitting at the seams and losing its identity in the final week of the season.

The walls are closing in around the Magic now. Every mistake seems to sting more and every loss feels like the world is crashing.

Another loss -- a 117-99 defeat to a shorthanded Milwaukee Bucks -- has the Orlando Magic on life support to clinch a Playoff spot -- two wins or a win and a loss from the Philadelphia 76ers or Indiana Pacers will do the job. But they do not want to rely on anyone else.

The Magic want to be the team that just Sunday sat in third place in the Eastern Conference and seemed to have a world of possibilities in front of them.

Instead, Orlando seems to be getting exposed.

All the team's flaws and shortcomings -- the same that likely would have become revealed in the Playoffs -- are getting exposed now. The warm feelings and joy that characterized the first 70-plus games is now giving way to the seriousness of their task.

Orlando is fumbling the bag, so to speak. With two tough games remaining, the Magic are finding themselves trying to find their rhythm and identity again. They are trying to find a win again.

"I think those games will be very similar to the game we played tonight," Cole Anthony said after Wednesday's loss. "This was a playoff atmosphere. The refs were kind of letting us play. And we played against a really good team. That's going to be how it is when we get to the playoffs. Whenever we make a mistake, they are going to capitalize on it and it's going to hurt us in the long run. We just learn from this and keep moving forward."

The Bucks were able to do all that Wednesday without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in the lineup.

But the Bucks still played the same way. They put pressure on the Magic defensively and spread the floor, stretching the Magic's vaunted defense thin.

Orlando could not break through with Franz Wagner missing his second straight game with a right ankle sprain. The whole team struggled to break through. And under pressure, the team turned the ball over a lot.

Turnovers, one of the team's biggest weaknesses all year, proved to be the difference in the game.

Orlando rightfully understood it lost this game because of 16 turnovers for 27 Milwaukee points. The Magic were loose with the ball and the Bucks were able to put pressure and take the ball away from them often. The Magic were climbing uphill very early and could not snap to attention or focus to play their style.

"The momentum swings that happen when you turn the basketball over and then you are not knocking shots down compounds," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's loss. "Our ability to take care of the basketball is key. You have 16 turnovers for 27 points, it's hard to give yourself a chance. Our energy was there, our intentionality was there. We just have to do a better job of taking care of basketball. A lot of it came down to having some great looks that did not drop."

The Magic have struggled with turnovers all season. They rank 26th in the league with a 15.1 percent turnover rate. They were at 16.8 percent in Wednesday's game. This game was about the team trying to overpass and getting caught between a shot and a pass. They were never really on the same page.

And the Bucks just pounced and never relented.

With so much attention put on Damian Lillard, Milwaukee was able to pick apart Orlando's defense finding Bobby Portis (30 points including 24 in the first half) for open shots or kicking it back out to Brook Lopez for three.

Like in Tuesday's loss to the Houston Rockets, the Orlando Magic found themselves having to play catch up because of early makes and shots. Some of those were the Magic's own fault.

With the offense struggling, that only put more pressure on the Magic's few creators to make something happen. And the Bucks were able to increase their pressure.

Like right now with the losses piling up, there seemed to be no release valve.

The Bucks played how the Magic need to play.

Orlando needs to be the aggressor and hit first. The Magic need to be the ones to hit first and play physically. They have had terms dictated to them when they spent the last six months dictating terms to everyone around the league.

Orlando needs to rediscover its identity to close this season. The team needs it to make the most of the Playoffs.

But the Magic are going to feel the pressure they are feeling today in the Playoffs. And it is only going to increase once the postseason begins. The Magic have to show they can rise to the occasion.

"The teams we've been seeing are gearing up to prepare for their Playoff runs," Paolo Banchero said after Wednesday's loss. "We've been dealing with some injuries and stuff like that. You've got to try to bring the energy and bring the intensity. You can't let a couple of losses sidetrack you from the bigger picture. We're trying to make a run in the Playoffs."

Right now, it does not look like the Magic are meeting the moment. The results, where the team has looked lifeless and overwhelmed, show the Magic are struggling to meet this moment and bring the intensity that has been essential to their identity all year.

It will not take many changes. The Magic recognize that too.

The game was really decided in the second quarter when Orlando turned the ball over and Portis hit everything he threw at the rim.

Make a few more shots and reduce turnovers and maybe the defense does not look so out of rhythm.

But that does not excuse the lack of precision and the lack of attention to detail that is necessary for the Magic to walk that fine line for a win. Orlando is not doing what it needs to do to win. The Magic need more.

"We control what we can control," Mosley said after Wednesday's loss. "In these next two games, we have to be very focused and intentional about the way we go about our business. Defensively, that's two games where we have given up 100 plus. We have to do a better job sitting down and locking in there."

The pressure is only increasing. The game on Friday in Philadelphia will not be easy. Neither will the home finale against these same Bucks on Sunday.

But this is the pressure the team is supposed to be seeking. This is the experience they need to get. That may help them in the long run. But there is still work to do in the present.

Next. One question Magic Playoffs 04.11.24. One question for every Orlando Magic player before the Playoffs. dark

Whatever cracks they are showing, there is still time to repair them. The team just has to lock in and show what they have already shown they are capable of doing.