Orlando Magic teaching adaptability as they balance consistency with lineups

The Orlando Magic are in the thick of a playoff race where every win and every game is going to count. They are still willing to adapt and experiment with lineups to help them in the postseason.

Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic have had to adapt to some injuries lately. But that will help them prepare for the adaptability they need for the Playoffs.
Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic have had to adapt to some injuries lately. But that will help them prepare for the adaptability they need for the Playoffs. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic had to adapt Sunday evening.

For the first time this season, Paolo Banchero was not going to be available to play and Orlando was going to have to shuffle its lineup.

It was not entirely clear which direction coach Jamahl Mosley would go. But it felt safe to assume Mosley would do what he has always done this year, he would work to keep his rotation largely intact. Consistency is an important aspect of the team's rotation and the team's success. The team was not going to upset the apple cart.

This Magic team though has a lot of options at its disposal. It is a versatile team with a lot of different lineups to explore. And one of its advantages and strengths is that versatility.

It is up to Mosley to figure out how to use it all. And so Sunday, he tested something new -- starting Goga Bitadze alongside Wendell Carter. It was the first time the duo had played together. And while the two-center lineup raised some eyebrows, it was an experiment that saw some success.

In 17.1 minutes together in Sunday's game, the lineup with the two bigs on the floor was only -2. In the first half, they were +2 (16-14 raw score) in their minutes together. It was not nearly enough of a sample size to draw conclusions, but it was not an abject failure.

Maybe this will be something the team can return to. Because in the playoffs, you never know what you might need.

"I think we have such a great group of high basketball IQ guys who understand the gameplan is night to night," Mosley said after shootaround on Tuesday. "It is going to be dependent on matchups in certain situations. Any lineup that we put out there, they've learned and worked with a level of chemistry and camaraderie that they know how to play off each other offensively and defensively."

The Magic have long extolled their versatility and ability to mix and match lineups. A lot of their offense is still read-based and depends on players learning to read actions and react to the defense. The team is meant to be able to plug and play any player into the system.

Even with the playoffs ahead and the need to win games, the team is still seemingly open to experimenting with lineups and trying to find new ways to deploy their players.

At the very least, the most important lesson is understanding that matchups in the playoffs may call for the team to put together little-used lineups. What the team is preparing for is to be able to play with any lineup available.

That is what the team had to learn quickly with Carter and Bitadze sharing the floor. There were hiccups, of course, with a new lineup. But that it was not a complete non-starter is a testament to this team's versatility and growth.

"It was tough because we had never seen it before," Carter said after shootaround on Tuesday. "We never have played on the court at the same time ever. It was a chance that we had. I feel like with more practice and time together, we'll be better."

There may not be much time for practice with that group. The games march on. And the team is certainly trying to pick up wins with how tight the Eastern Conference standings are -- the Orlando Magic trail the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers by a half-game for sixth in the Eastern Conference.

The main thing the team is looking for is consistency.

Mosley wants to build lineups that have played together to maximize their production. That is why he opted to start Goga Bitadze rather than inserting Jonathan Isaac and jumbling up his bench lineups (that happened anyway with Isaac's injury).

But the team has had to show the ability to adjust and adapt as things call for it. The team has to have a game plan but then has to adapt to the matchups on the court and how the game is going.

This is the essence of the Playoffs and what the team is preparing for.

"Finding consistency, I think that's the biggest thing," Mosley said after shootaround Tuesday. "When we're healthy, there is more of a level of consistency. When you're not healthy, you are trying to find different ways to have the right rotation and the right matchup. A lot of times that's dependent on who we play. . . . It's going to be different on different nights with different guys."

The matchup against the Hawks with Jalen Johnson playing alongside Clint Capela opened the door for the team to try a bigger lineup. It was certainly not why the Magic lost that game.

Orlando has at times experimented with different lineups throughout the year. The team has leaned on defending leads with a lineup that features Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jonathan Isaac. That trio has a +8.3 net rating in 102 minutes across 25 games. That is a 100.5 offensive rating and 92.2 defensive rating.

That has been the most experimental lineup the Magic have used and returned to. But there are plenty of other things the team may yet try before and during the Playoff.s This team's versatility is its strength.

The team has been flexible too with its closing lineups too depending on whether the team needs to make up ground in the standings or needs to hold onto a lead. That flexibility is part of the advantage of this roster in addition to its size. Teams are still figuring out how to match up.

That is ultimately what will prove valuable for the team.

Orlando certainly has a preferred set rotation. They adjust as the game evolves and develops too. The task is to have everyone ready to play. Their success is a credit to this flexibility and versatility.

"I think the faster you can get that learning curve and speed up that learning curve is huge," Mosley said after shootaround Tuesday. "I think it is such a testament to our guys' basketball IQ, one. But, two, the coaches. They do a tremendous job to get these guys prepared to be put into any situation. Being able to play with multiple players and different guys says a lot about this team. it's also the closeness and the communication that we constantly talk about these guys having."

The playoffs are going to be a different challenge. And the team is going to have to be adaptable and ready to change lineups as matchups might dictate. Nobody quite knows how this team will respond to that pressure.

They are going to have to be willing to adjust on the fly and use new or little-used lineups when called upon. This is all practice and testing for those moments that are to come.

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The Magic will fight for consistency with their rotations and their lineups to be a steady drumbeat for wins in their playoff push. But they also know they need to be able to adapt to succeed down the road.