Orlando Magic are still measuring up to their standard

The Orlando Magic know the playoffs are coming. The urgency and intensity is about to ramp up. And slips like the one that nearly cost them Monday are not going to be acceptable anymore.
The Orlando Magic found themselves in a scrap with the Portland Trail Blazers as they tried to close out their homestand. They found themselves winning but falling short of their standard.
The Orlando Magic found themselves in a scrap with the Portland Trail Blazers as they tried to close out their homestand. They found themselves winning but falling short of their standard. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

34. Magic Blazers Final 04.01.24. 104. 38. Final. 103

The Orlando Magic wanted to celebrate Monday evening.

The team had eked out a 104-103 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers thanks to some stellar defense from Jalen Suggs on rookie Scoot Henderson. He forced Henderson to the ground as he tried to swipe at the ball before the ball squirted out to Deandre Ayton on the perimeter. Jonathan Isaac closed out on Deandre Ayton and forced the rushed shot short to preserve the victory.

The game marked Jamahl Mosley's 100th career win. Forty-four of those have come during this landmark season now that has the Magic on the brink of the postseason. There were still some hound dogs barking in the locker room.

A win is a win and is worth celebrating.

There is something different now. With the Playoffs now two weeks away and the Magic fighting to improve their seeding and make some noise, the urgency and attention to detail has to rise. Mosley, usually the voice of calm and composure for the Magic and their sometimes rowdy bunch, had to make sure there was a clear message.

This was unacceptable.

For the first time, a win was not just a win. And Mosley made sure to make that clear, sending a clear public statement before taking questions following the win.

"Before we start, you are going to ask to talk about the Magic standard and how we play? That wasn't it tonight. I want to start that the right way. Portland give them credit for how they battled and stayed in the game. We have to be better. Very simple. We have to play a better style of basketball where we don't play with the game, respect the game of basketball and play the right way from the beginning to the end."

The Magic seemingly had the game wrapped up on several occasions -- beyond the just the discrepancy in record and motivation as the season winds to a close. They led by 15 points in the third quarter, only to see it trimmed to 10. Portland opened the quarter on a 16-4 run through the first half of the quarter to take the lead.

Orlando had answers, snapping from their stupor long enough to reassert the lead.

The Magic took a nine-point lead with three minutes to play after Jalen Suggs knocked the ball away from Scoot Henderson on an inbound pass in the backcourt. Jalen Suggs then found Franz Wagner cutting to the basket for an and-one layup.

But Portland answered back, forcing an offensive foul on Jalen Suggs, hitting a three from Jabari Walker, blocking a Gary Harris layup attempt, getting another three from Dalano Banton and then answering every Magic shot from there.

Orlando was scrambling with Portland outworking the team to the ball and hitting shots. And when Paolo Banchero missed a 3-pointer off a kickout from Franz Wagner, there was a very real chance the Magic would drop the game. They needed that one last desperate stop.

At least it came together enough to squeak out the victory in the end.

"You want to be perfect," Suggs said after Monday's win. "You want to play a great game of course, but basketball is an imperfect game. It's important to understand that. We learned something tonight. We came out and we took their punches. We answered back. We stayed doing a good job of staying poised and withstanding their run and staying locked in the game. We got the win. You can harp on it. We're going to go back and watch and learn from it. We need to be better, but we got a win."

To be sure, this is not Magic basketball.

Orlando lost key areas that are necessary to win. Portland outscored Orlando 48-44 in the paint. The Blazers scored 23 second-chance points off 11 offensive rebounds. The Magic committed 16 turnovers for 19 points.

Wagner said the team struggled to move the ball and compounding that with missed shots put the team on its back foot. Especially with how hard the Blazers were playing. Orlando did not bring its best offensive game and it cost them.

These are all miscues that will cost the team in the Playoffs. At the end of the day, that is what the Magic are playing against more than an opponent like the Blazers.

Portland played with the urgency and energy of a team trying to snap a long losing streak. The Blazers sensed a chance to steal a victory. Orlando seemingly let go of the rope some.

And that is what cannot happen. The Magic have to hold themselves to a higher standard.

"We want to get better at this point in the season," Wagner said after Monday's win. "Obviously we're playing for a good playoff position. So winning is the first priority. but right after this playing up to our standard. Whether we win on that, when we go home we'll probably think about what I can do better and what we can do better collectively and learn from it."

The Magic know what they have to do to win. They have done that plenty throughout the season. And these were things that did not go their way.

Orlando still found a way to get the win. Wagner said at this point of the season the first priority is winning. Those are what the standings care about and the Magic got that part done. The next priority is playing to the standard. The win may seem hollow for that reason, but it still counts.

Learning an important lesson while winning is still valuable for the young team. And the standings do not care how much you win by as long as the team wins.

But the Magic know this is not going to cut it for their ambitions and where they are going to go. They cannot overlook an opponent like the Portland Trail Blazers and expect the same seemingly easy result they got Saturday against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The team has to go through these growing pains still.

"I think that's the next step for our progress," Suggs said after Monday's loss. "We've got to get away with some things just because we're young and sometimes you don't want to say what needs to be said to keep morale or the confidence and all of that up. But with the way we're going, where we're playing and where we all want to get to, we have to have those conversations. He has to say stuff like that so it's in the back of our minds."

Mosley sent a clear message to his team. He sent it publicly making sure the fans and the media hold the Magic to the same standard he wants to hold them to. The kid's gloves are off. The Magic are in the serious business of competing for the Playoffs now.

The postseason chase is real. And right now the Magic have to handle their business and make sure they are playing their best basketball.

They need the urgency and attention to detail that would come from a Playoff team. That should not be something that has to be asked or questioned.

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The Magic did not have that juice on Monday night. They got away with it for a win. But Orlando knows it will need more.