Orlando Magic's starting lineup powering team toward playoffs

The Orlando Magic are still learning a lot of things as they get ready for the Playoffs ahead. One thing they know, they have a starting lineup that will power them once they get there.

The Orlando Magic took care of their business against the Toronto Raptors as their starting group continues to shine and dominate games.
The Orlando Magic took care of their business against the Toronto Raptors as their starting group continues to shine and dominate games. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

81. Magic Raptors Final 03.17.24. 111. 38. Final. 96

The Orlando Magic's first half Sunday felt like a carbon copy of their win Friday against the Toronto Raptors. The rematch seemed to bring with it the same problems of attention to detail and execution. The Magic could not seem to swat away the pesky Raptors, leading by five at the break despite as much as a 10-point lead.

One thing the team probably felt comfortable with as they came out of the locker room -- their starters had their back. They would get off to a good start to the second half and put some distane between them and the struggling Raptors.

Their starters would almost certainly save the day.

And so it was throughout a decisive third quarter to turn the game into a virtual rout.

Whether it was Paolo Banchero getting downhill to the rim or creating space for his favored elbow jumper. Or whether it was Jalen Suggs ripping the ball away underneath the basket at one end and racing to the other end for a three. Or whether it was the Magic picking apart the zone defense, even without the comfort of 3-point shooting.

The Magic's starters were going to put their stamp on the game. That is something they have done throughout this postseason run.

They did it again against the Toronto Raptors in a 111-96 victory to start an eight-game homestand at Kia Center on Sunday.

Orlando's starters opened the game with an 18-8 push to stake an early 10-point lead. That would evaporate with some sloppy play and frustrating shooting, but the Magic maintained their lead to the locker room for halftime.

The Magic then started the second half with a 9-1 run to take the lead from five points to 13. The Raptors never really made a push to get back into the game.

The Magic's starters did the job.

"I think we're very comfortable right now," Banchero said after Sunday's win. "We fit very well together. Everybody can space the floor. Everybody can shoot the three. And everybody is very versatile on defense. Everybody is interchangeable and switchable. I think on both ends, it helps us a lot. I think we know each other well enough now we have a feel for if this guy has it going, or that guy has it going or that guy has a matchup, create whatever advantage that we an."

In Sunday's game, the Magic's starters won their minutes 33-22, shooting 56.5 percent in 12.3 minutes on the floor. They posted a 122.2 offensive rating and 81.5 defensive rating in just more than a quarter's work together.

That is how the Magic put a dividing line between them and the Raptors. They dominated the minutes when the starters faced off.

It was not merely Banchero scoring 29 points and hitting 11 of 16 shots, including four of seven from three. Or Franz Wagner adding 22 points. The Magic only had four players in double figures in an oddly quiet and frustrating offensive night.

It was that Orlando's starting group locked down Toronto on defense and put a vice grip on the game whenever the team was in. The Magic's 35-26 third quarter proved to be the biggest difference in the game. It started with what the starters did from the time they came out of the locker room.

"It's what we've continued to ask them to do and what they're taking responsibility and ownership of doing," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Sunday's win. "Coming out of the locker room the right way, making sure we're doing it on the defensive end first. Our coaches are doing a great job at halftime seeing the adjustments, understanding what we can do better. We got a bunch of open looks tonight that did not fall. But those are the looks you want to get, trust the past and trust each other."

It is not just the start of the second half, which the Magic have dominated in their three-game win streak. Orlando's starting group has been doing this for much of the season since they started playing meaningful minutes, especially after the All-Star Break.

The lineup of Jalen Suggs, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter is posting a +19.6 net rating in 165 minutes across 12 games. The group has put together a 117.3 offensive rating and a 97.7 defensive rating.

They are the third-most used lineup this year, trailing the winning streak lineup with Goga Bitadze and Anthony Black and the original lineup with Markelle Fultz. While those two lineups have positive net ratings, neither are as devastating as the current starting group.

In fact, among Magic lineups that have played at least 48 minutes together this season, only two lineups have a great net rating -- the bench lineup with Anthony Black instead of Markelle Fultz and the typical transition lineup with Gary Harris and Franz Wagner with Jonathan Isaac, Moe Wagner and Cole Anthony.

To put it plainly, this starting group has worked really well together. And the numbers show it. The puzzle pieces with that group fit together.

"I think defensively we're really good," Franz Wagner said after Sunday's win. "We have five guys who have a lot of fight on that side of the floor. We've got really smart players too. That's always a really good combination. And on offense, just try to move the ball. Obviously, Paolo draws a lot of attention on the floor. We've done a really good job learning how to play off of that."

The Magic have settled on this lineup effectively since the All-Star Break. Except for a few absences, this has been the group the Magic have leaned on most to carry them through this part of the season. And Orlando has found success -- remember Suggs sat out the two playoff tests last week against the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers.

The Magic are 9-0 when this group starts. It is a lineup that simply works.

Even in an ugly game like Sunday's against the Raptors.

The Magic struggled to make shots, hitting on only 11 of 36 3-pointers. Suggs picked up early foul trouble and played limited minutes becuase of it (not that Orlando needed him badly).

But Orlando locked in defensively and it never mattered that the threes were not falling. The Magic were always in control.

What works about this group is that they are all committed defenders and can play the versatile style the Magic prefer. It helps too that Harris and Suggs can spread the floor along with Carter as a center. And that is with Banchero and Wagner anchoring the team and driving downhill to collapse the defense.

The group works and it is about as good as the Magic can put together. And they seem to be getting better as their continuity and comfort with each other grows. All of these players seem to fit into a key part of this puzzle.

So far nobody has been able to stop it after the All-Star Break. The starting lineup is the anchor to the team's success.

Orlando Magic learned consistency key for playoff push. dark. Next. Consistency key for playoffs 03.16.24

With the Playoffs on the horizon, teams always lean more heavily on their starters. It appears Orlando has a starting group it can rely on.