Orlando Magic's upside is still unknown after matching last year's win total

The Orlando Magic are set to pass one benchmark for improvement, matching last year's win total. Clearly though, the Magic are expecting to do a whole lot more.

The Orlando Magic have come a long way in matching last year's win total. The team still does not know how good it can be. They are eager to find out.
The Orlando Magic have come a long way in matching last year's win total. The team still does not know how good it can be. They are eager to find out. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
facebooktwitterreddit

Thirty-four wins is nothing special. There is no parade for passing that mark. It is not even a .500 season.

Last year, though, 34 wins felt like a relief. It felt like hope.

After a 5-20 start to the season, for the Magic to rally to get to 34 wins (and the team eased off the throttle in the last three games after being eliminated from the postseason) seemed like a minor victory. It hinted at what was possible for the team. But even that was just finishing a hair above .500 for the rest of the season.

Nobody is unfurling "Mission Accomplished" banners or anything after hitting 34 wins with their win over the Utah Jazz on Thursday and surpassing it Sunday in the win over the Detroit Pistons.

Still, it was a moment of reflection. It was something that earned at least a step back to consider what the team had accomplished.

Orlando matched its win total from the 2023 season on Feb. 29 with 22 games remaining. The team surpassed that number on March 3 with 21 games remaining.

In all likelihood the Magic will finish with a record better than .500 for the first time since 2019 and the second time since Dwight Howard left in 2012. They will likely play postseason basketball for the first time since 2020. A playoff spot and possibly homecourt advantage are in sight.

The team has a lot to celebrate, but that is not what they are doing. They are instead thinking of the work still left to do to be more. Thirty-four wins was never the goal. They wanted to surpass last year in every way.

That is part of hwat is special about this team and season.

"A group that understands exactly what we're capable of doing but never satisfied," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday's win over the Jazz. "Wanting to continue to grow and get better. It says a lot about this coaching staff who put in so much work with these guys and with themselves to reach the highest level of success that they can. That to me, that's what it says about a phenomenal group of young me and coaches."

It has indeed been a team effort to elevate the team and grow to this point.

Orlando has established itself as one of the top defensive teams in the league -- sitting in fifth giving up 111.4 points per 100 possessions. They have built their identity. They have a way to win consistently.

Paolo Banchero turned into an All-Star, averaging 22.8 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game and 5.2 assists per game in his second season. Franz Wagner is not too far behind him at 20.6 points per game. Jalen Suggs has taken a huge step as a defender and a 3-point shooter.

The team has taken major steps forward as a group. And it has shown itself on the floor with the results.

And they have largely done it together. The team feels true ownership of this progress because most of these players have been part of the progression to get here.

This accomplishment deserves some recognition of how they got here.

"I think a dope part about having this unit that's been together the past two years is we've gone through a lot together," Suggs said after Thursday's win over the Jazz. "We've had to win games when we can't make shots, we've had to win games relying on defense, we've had to win games where we can't get stops but we do have shots falling from the outside. We are able to win and adapt to how the game is going."

That is the biggest thing for this young team. They have learned how to win.

The accomplishment of reaching last year's win total so soon is about how much the team has grown. Simple improvement is not enough for them anymore. They have already shown that they are a better team than they were last year. They have already shown that they have grown together and built this thing themselves.

Everyone on this Magic roster has continually spoken about what it means to build this thing together. To go from the depths of a 21-win season in 2022 to a 34-win season last year to this year.

They believe they are building something special and they are turning heads around the league. They know it has not been easy or predestined even with the No. 1 pick. This was not the it young team in the league.

And so they are soaking up every moment of this in many ways.

But they are also not satisfied. Even during their nine-game win streak, they talked about being greedy. They did not want that feeling to end.

And even though this team is inexperienced and has never been to the Playoffs, they are eager to do more. They can see that opportunity in front of them with how tight the standings are. They can see how good they can be and how well they can play.

"I think it's big, but we've got a bigger picture," Markelle Fultz said after Sunday's win over the Pistons. "We kind of talked about it a little bit today about staying locked in and our expectations. I think we've just got to continue to take it one game at a time. . . . I think we have a really good team. Everybody has the same mindset. Everybody's locked into winning. Everybody wants to win."

The Magic are capable of doing a whole lot more. Simply making the postseason is not enough anymore. The Playoffs are tantalizingly close. The Magic have arrived sooner than anyone expected.

The process has matched the results to get them to this point. Matching last year's win total is a reason for some celebration. It is something the team should mark.

But there is still so much more to gain. There is still a lot of ways the team can and will improve. The team should still be aiming to do a lot more -- whether that comes in the playoffs or well beyond it. This is just a stepping stone for the team.

Next. Playoff Preview Matchups 03.04.24. 3 Playoff Preview Matchups left for the Orlando Magic. dark

There is still so much more for them to accomplish.