Orlando Magic still searching for one more play, one more fight to win again

The Orlando Magic came up frustratingly short against an undermanned Miami Heat. Even through their own injuries, the Magic are hunting for their will to win and gut out performances through these difficult times.
Paolo Banchero did all he could to will the Orlando Magic to victory. But they are still frustratingly coming up short through their illnesses and injuries.
Paolo Banchero did all he could to will the Orlando Magic to victory. But they are still frustratingly coming up short through their illnesses and injuries. / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

99. 110. Final. 96. 38. Magic Heat Final 01.12.24

Paolo Banchero's frustration was written all over his face as he walked off the court at Kaseya Center on Friday.

He had done everything humanly possible to put his team in a position to win. And yet, he fell frustratingly short.

Never mind, the Orlando Magic would not even be anywhere remotely close to a position to defeat the Miami Heat without his superhuman effort. He scored six points in the final four minutes of the second quarter to help bring the Magic within striking distance at the half.

Trailing by five with four minutes to play, Banchero became involved in every play down the stretch. Making three of four free throws, assisting on a Moe Wagner layup to cut the deficit to two. Missing a floater but then answering a Bam Adebayo free throw with back-to-back tough fadeaway jumpers along the baseline.

He put the Magic up by one with 38 seconds to play. The Magic just needed one stop and nearly got it when Jalen Suggs and Anthony Black collapsed on Bam Adebayo to force the ball out of bounds.

But the Heat had one more play.

Adebayo hit a jumper over Wagner. Banchero did not have the extra play.

He got to the basket and missed on a runner, when the ball came back to him, he lost it on the way up and the Heat rebounded. Banchero's game-tying three-pointer was no good amidst all the chaos.

For the first time, Banchero could not deliver the goods for the Magic in a 99-96 defeat at Kaseya Center. He was emotional coming off the floor knowing how much is on him to will this team to victory.

It is most frustrating to be just one play short.

This injured, struggling team is searching for that little bit extra it needs to win. Orlando is still looking for that last bit of will it needs to win and build the kind of culture that can sustain. They are so close, but still coming up frustratingly short as their hot start is receding deeper into the background.

They are confident and composed enough to believe, they left one on the floor in a big road game.

"I think that is a game we should have won," Banchero said after Friday's game. "I wouldn't want to take a moral victory. They had some of their best players out too. I think we played well enough to win. I wasn't able to make plays down the stretch for us to win. Give credit to the Heat, but I think we should have won that game."

There is a lot of frustration over that point more than anything else.

The team believes it is past moral victories and patting themselves on the back for close losses. Just as the team is not going to panic over one defeat in a tough road game -- even with the Heat playing without Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry.

Still, the team is trying to find its fight again. And there were just too many mistakes.

Moe Wagner, who scored 19 points off the bench, pointed first and foremost to the team missing eight free throws. That was the game in many ways as the team left opportunities at the line throughout the game.

Turnovers were also a big issue throughout the night. Even though Orlando finished with only 13, seven of them came in the third quarter, leaving the team a hill to climb for much of the game. Orlando did not lead very often in this game.

Then there was the fouling with Orlando going through large bouts of fouling especially at the end of quarters that put the team behind the 8-ball.

The Magic know there is a lot they can control. Things that even an undermanned Heat team was able to control and maintain through all the players out of the lineup.

"That's what it's supposed to be. I think the physicality, the toughness, we hit, they hit. It's supposed to be like that. For our guys to be a part of this and recognize what we have to do. We're not even going to get into the real thing is that we go 12 for 20 from the free throw line so you don't give yourself an opportunity there. You have a chance to win the game if you knock your free throws down and don't put yourself in that situation."

There were a lot of those moments that just slipped through the team's hands. Moments the Heat constantly took advantage of to maintain their lead throughout the game.

The defense was on point for much of the night giving up just 43 points in the second half. But the Heat were able to get cuts throughout the first half and catch a Magic team that just seemed disjointed and a step slow. And Adebayo got a step-in jumper to put the Heat up for good.

It is abundantly clear that this team is fighting through the illness and injuries that have overtaken the team. They are short-handed and the Magic's depth has been stretched far too thin.

Jalen Suggs played only 13:50 in the game because of three early fouls but also because he is "very far under the weather" according to coach Jamahl Mosley.

Suggs entered the game for the final possession in the fourth quarter after sitting nearly the entire second half and still found a way to knock the ball out of Adebayo's hands. Every game has to be a grind.

The team is fighting right now with a lot of players who are not typically in the rotation and not typically relied on so heavily. Many of those players have stepped up -- Joe Ingles scored 14 points in his return game and Chuma Okeke had 16 -- but those deficiencies are clear.

Still, the team has to find a way to win. It has to keep grinding and seeking a formula and some consistency to stay on top.

"We have no other choice," Banchero said after Friday's game. "As a team, we can't lay down. We have to keep playing hard and keep giving ourselves a chance to win. Tonight was a tough night. But we just have to take that same energy that we had tonight and bring it the next couple of games and finish better."

At this point, as Wagner put it, the team cannot manifest that it is going through something. The team still has to find a way to keep the ship steady. And while Orlando is struggling, it is hovering around .500 in its last 10 games.

This is a team that is doing its best to keep the ship steady. And that might be the best it can do.

"This group does not quit and they won't. They are a group that will continue to band together and fight no matter what the circumstances are. We constantly talk about we're not making excuses for anything. At the end of the day, when you lace them up, you've got to be ready to go and give everything that you have. This group absolutely gives everything they have every single time they touch the floor."

Still, it is hard to look past what the Heat did. They were first to a lot of plays and scrapped and clawed as much as the Magic did.

In the end, they made one more play than Orlando did and Orlando seemed to let one slip by despite heroic efforts throughout the team.