Through 23 games, the Orlando Magic have begun to form an identity. They have begun to play consistently. They have begun to set how teams will play against them.
It is not always going to be pretty. Orlando almost prefers that it is not. It is going to be grimy and dirty and ugly. The Magic are going to drag you into the dirt with them consistently.
In a first-half timeout, Paolo Banchero said Jamahl Mosley pulled his team aside and told them it was going to be "one of them games." How would the team respond to this challenge?
"It will be a game where you are not getting the benefit of the doubt from the refs," Banchero said after Monday's game. "Shots may not go in so you have to grind it out and trust each other. You have to defend and get stops. That is what it came down to was trusting each other and locking in and staying locked in on the defensive side. I just think that's what won the game for us."
It was a game where nothing was going to be easy. The Magic had to trust each other and trust their way to deliver a win. They had to believe they would deliver in the end.
And that might be just how the Magic like it.
This is not your typical young, up-and-coming team. This is not a team that has its life dictated by its offense. For the most part, this is a team where its poor offense seems to get the team to defend harder somehow.
This was not an easy game by any means for the Magic. Their offense was again tested as the Cleveland Cavaliers seemed to follow the same script as last week's game in Cleveland, denying shots at the rim and hitting threes to create some distance and apply pressure on an always-struggling Orlando Magic offense.
But at the Amway Center, that only seemed to harden the Magic and make them dig in more. That seemed to make their defense tighter. There was no giant deficit to give Cleveland some cushion this time.
Orlando was going to slowly squeeze the life out of Cleveland until finally, the Orlando offense could burst through. That is how this team is playing more often now. That is what has helped catapult the Magic to the top of the Eastern Conference and why it seems like the Magic are not going to go anywhere anytime soon.
The Magic scored a critical 104-94 win over the Cavs at the Amway Center on Monday. And it was played in their ugly, physical style. The kind of way this team loves to play and plays when they are at their most successful.
"We have fun playing defense," Jalen Suggs said after Monday's win. "I think we sometimes lose sight of that and it's human nature and part of being in this league. We enjoy getting turnt up and getting energized on defensive plays. Everyone does it and everyone is buying into it. We all have that collective mindset. It's tough to score. We have a lot of versatility and a lot of passion and a lot of will."
That will is becoming most evident about this team.
Orlando held Cleveland to a season-low 94 points, giving up 35.3 percent shooting the lowest field goal percentage the Magic have allowed this year. Cleveland recorded only a 102.2 offensive rating.
Everyone contributed on defense whether it was Jalen Suggs laying out on the floor for a loose ball or Goga Bitadze recording one of his four blocks.
The Cavaliers, like the Magic a week before, could not buy a shot. After hitting five 3-pointers in the first quarter, the Cavaliers went 4 for 29 (13.8 percent) the rest of the game. Cleveland scored only 15 points in the decisive third quarter making just 2 of 17 shots.
Nothing defines who the Magic are better than that.
They were disruptive forcing turnovers on the interior and closing off opponents in the paint. Whatever turnovers they did get, they turned into baskets as they got downhill and out in transition to score.
That was Orlando's best offense, but it was not like the team was much better.
The Magic shot 46.4 percent from the floor and a still-icy 7 for 26 from three (26.9 percent). Orlando had 14 turnovers in the game still. The Magic have just made a habit of winning games without good shooting.
They lean on their defense and their will to win.
"It's by committee and these guys, they will themselves to it and they realize you can sit down and guard no matter what is happening in the game," Mosley said after Monday's game. "And I think they challenged each other. They wanted to, they got after it, they got the big stops when they needed to and that's what this group is about. They'r pulling for each other, tied together and they're tough and they all want to sit down and guard which is a great part about this group."
That is the most amazing part of this group. They are so young and have not experienced the full spectrum of the NBA. Young teams are not supposed to feel this commitment to defense.
But this team has the will to do so. Mosley said the team took on the challenge of making this a defensive game and winning ugly so to speak.
That is where a team like this one can grow and develop. That is what it is going to take to get wins like this one against quality teams like the Cavaliers.
Everything for the Magic starts with getting stops. It starts with that commitment to defense to find a way. And Orlando keeps doing what the games call for and dictating the terms of engagement.
Teams have had to play this Magic style and really they have no chance if the Magic are able to drag teams down like this.
"It's just another game to continue practicing and continuing doing what we preach, holding ourselves to our standard," Suggs said after Monday's game. "I don't think the opponent matters. That's a mindset we are trying to carry."
Suggs said the Magic were tyring to make a statement in the end with a win like this. They owed the Cavs one for not giving their best effort in last week's game on the road.
But Orlando is trying to tell their opponent and the rest of the league that this team is not a pushover anymore. This is a team that requires your full attention and focus. That you have to gameplan for and that will punish you for any mistakes you make.
Orlando is reaching that status for sure at this juncture of the season. And it does not matter how other teams are playing. The Magic are still evolving their style.
And it is from being comfortable in what otherwise might be considered ugly. That is who the Magic are very loudly becoming. They find their way.