Orlando Magic are trying to measure up to the Playoffs

The Orlando Magic's playoff hopes took another major hit with their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Thanks to some help, they still control their own destiny. But thye are still struggling to measure up to the Playoffs.
The Orlando Magic are fighting for their Playoff lives as they came up short against a more seasoned Philadelphia 76ers team.
The Orlando Magic are fighting for their Playoff lives as they came up short against a more seasoned Philadelphia 76ers team. / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

93. Final. 113. 38. Magic Sixers Final 04.12.24. 125

The Orlando Magic always knew it would be a tall task to play the Philadelphia 76ers on the road with so much on the line.

They knew that going up against this team with Joel Embiid, and all the problems he creates, and all the issues someone like Tyrese Maxey creates with all the role players to spread the floor would be a huge test and undertaking for their defense.

These are huge challenges that every team faces. And the Sixers are not the typical 7-seed at this late stage of the season. With Embiid healthy, they are a true championship contender. It was going to be difficult for this team to get this must-win game for both teams. It was going to require their best.

Of course, this is what the Playoffs are.

It is two great teams going against each other trying to figure out how to stop the other. To compete at the highest levels requires taking on these kind of challenges and doing it for 48 minutes.

Playing hard is not enough. It is about precision and execution. It is about making shots. It is about finding a way.

The Magic have plenty of issues to deal with immediately just to ensure they are actually in a Playoff series. But they are already seeing that they will find it tough to measure up when the chips are down.

The Playoffs are hard. And very clearly making them is just as difficult.

Orlando is struggling to give itself even the good start to be in a position to win these games. The Magic again struggled to measure up to the moment in a 125-113 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

They gave up 40 points in the first quarter to the 76ers as they sent double teams at Joel Embiid and he darted five assists to fire up a hot-shooting Sixers offense. Philadelphia made seven of their 13 3-pointers in the first quarter and 18 for the game. Orlando had very little chance to catch up.

"We've got to start the games better," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday's loss. "There is no other way to put it. You can't give up 40 points in the first quarter and crawl your way out. Our energy and effort were there on the backstretch. But you can't give teams 40 points and slow starts in order to get the game going because now you are climbing uphill the entire night."

The Magic's defense got stretched thin by the pressure they tried to apply to Embiid. That just opened up opportunities for everyone else and Orlando was stretched thin.

The Magic did not fold. And that might mean something. They got back to within two late in the second quarter -- only to give up a 5-0 run to end the first half. They cut the deficit to seven midway through the fourth -- only to let Tyrese Maxey score seven straight to extend the lead back to 14.

Ultimately, the only thing that matters at this time of year is the wins. And the Magic have come up woefully short, dropping all three games on this three-game road trip and four of their last five games overall at this critical juncture of the season.

Orlando's inability to do the most basic thing they have to do -- get a win -- is why the Magic are going to be fighting for their spot in the Playoffs on the season's final day. At least they still control their own destiny thanks to an Indiana Pacers loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

That is of little solace though. The Magic left Kia Center last Sunday sitting in the 3-seed. They return a week later hoping to avoid falling to the 8-seed with the Milwaukee Bucks needing a win to maintain their position in second.

There is a lot on the line. And so far, the Magic have not been able to measure up.

Ultimately, while the immediate goal of making the Playoffs is important, the Magic are trying to measure themselves against teams like the Sixers. They want to be the kind of team that is competing for a championship as the Sixers may well be this year.

And there too Orlando clearly does not measure up. There is a lot of work ahead to improve this roster to get it to a championship level.

It is not simply in the struggles to cinch up the Playoff spot in this final week, it is that the Magic had to play their absolute best to have a shot to compete with a team like the Sixers.

Philadelphia has a true star in Joel Embiid -- 32 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists -- that demanded Orlando break its defense to cover him. The Magic rarely send double teams at anyone before they get to the paint, but they had to double him immediately. That opened up space for the Sixers' shooters who punished the Magic all night long.

Orlando was game for most of the night offensively. But the Magic simply do not have the firepower to keep up. The Sixers made 18 of 37 threes overall. The Magic were just 8 for 27 in yet another game shooting worse than 30 percent from deep.

Orlando got 20-point games from Paolo Banchero (22 points), Franz Wagner (24 points) and Jalen Suggs (20 points) plus another 17 from Moe Wagner off the bench, but they were climbing uphill the whole game. They were chasing the lead and unable to sustain their offense enough.

Their usually reliable defense was scrambling to play catch up. The Sixers were able to beat it and with a sizable cushion early, they could go through the lulls the Magic could not afford.

Banchero did his best to play the star. He tried to make the right decisions, adding 15 rebounds and seven assists to his tally. But he made only 7 of 24 shots overall, leaving a lot of missed opportunities. Banchero is still figuring out how to step up in these moments. Like all young stars, it is a struggle to learn with all the added attention the Playoffs bring.

It is not that the Magic were not good enough to beat the Sixers. They just needed to be nearly perfect. Their margin for error was much smaller. Their dependability and consistency were much smaller.

They were not really in the same league. And that is how things would have likely gone in a Playoff series between these two teams too. The Sixers are just a better team right now.

They are where the Magic aspire to be and where this Magic team has to grow to compete for the prize everyone is ultimately after.

Orlando has undoubtedly had a frustrating end to the season. The team is fighting for survival -- although it is promised an 83rd game this year, so the season does not end Sunday no matter what. It is fighting the new standard it has set for itself.

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But the Magic know they have a lot of growing up to do and a lot of improving to do regardless. They are trying to put themselves in the heavier weight class. And this week and games like Friday's game show there is still a long way to go to measure up.