Orlando Magic want to have fun, but have to play to a standard too

The Orlando Magic are still about having fun and nobody is going to dismiss another gutsy late-game performance. But the team has a playoff standard to meet too as the season winds into its final quarter and the Playoffs become a reality.

Jalen Suggs came up as the hero against the Utah Jazz on Thursday night. The Orlando Magic will celebrate the win, but they know they have to be better.
Jalen Suggs came up as the hero against the Utah Jazz on Thursday night. The Orlando Magic will celebrate the win, but they know they have to be better. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic were having a good time in the second quarter. The Utah Jazz were like Swiss cheese with interior holes galore for them to exploit. And the Magic were putting flair on everything they do.

Cole Anthony drove through the lane and no-looked a pass to Moe Wagner cutting along the baseline for a dunk. A few possessions later, Jalen Suggs had a 3-on-1 fast break with Franz Wagner running alongside him but he opted to throw an overhead no-look to Moe Wagner for another dunk.

At one point Franz Wagner, perhaps frustrated with a lack of fouls called on the evening was determined to get to the hoop and jammed it all over UCF alum Taylor Hendricks.

It was that kind of game early on where the Magic looked like they could get anything they wanted. Their coach wants them to play with a certain amount of joy and he wants that to come out in everything they do.

But this is serious business. Things are not all fun and games anymore. There is something real on the line for this team. The Playoffs are clearly in sight in a bunched-up Eastern Conference. Every game has importance.

Orlando is not playing necessarily against any one opponent, they are playing to a standard. A standard that will have them ready to compete for the playoffs.

Of course, the Magic will celebrate a gutsy 115-107 win over the Jazz. They will celebrate Jalen Suggs draining three huge 3-pointers in the final three minutes, including two to put the Magic up seven with 1:09 to play in the game.

Every win counts for this team. Results matter.

But that is not how this team is being judged. This team is being judged on its readiness for the postseason. More importantly, it knows this now.

"I think we're very focused on trying to play to our standard as a team," Paolo Banchero said after Thursday's game. "We're trying to build up through the back part of the season so when the postseason hits we are hitting our stride as a team. February is getting over. We have got to be locked in all of March and April. That's when it gets real. Coach just said in there, we have a great win but we struggled in some areas -- free throws and turnovers. We have to meet our standard when it comes to that. We are aware of that. We have to get there one game at a time. When the postseason comes you want to be hitting on all cylinders."

Nobody is going to be disappointed with a win. And the Magic continue to show their maturity in recovering to get these wins. Orlando still had to make the plays and show the resolve to win.

After building a 13-point lead in the second quarter thanks to those fun-loving plays, the Magic suddenly got into a shell. The Jazz went on an 11-0 run in the final 2:31, hitting two 3-pointers and and taking advantage of a late turnover to set up the final shot to trail by two at the break.

This was going to be a game and the Magic's fun spirit turned into clear frustration as they could not hit anything from the outside and could not get separation.

The Magic's mistakes only compounded the problems.

Utah went to the line for 10 free throws in the third quarter. Orlando turned it over nine times for 15 points in the third quarter to let Utah hang around and even take occasional small leads.

The Magic left a lot of points on the board too. They tallied 15 turnovers for 25 Jazz points and they missed 10 of their 31 free throws. These were momentum killers that kept them from taking over the game.

They were plays that went against the playoff standard the team is trying to build.

"There's a standard," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday's game. "We talk about we got away with a win, but understanding we have to continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Fifteen turnovers for 25 points is not going to get it done. And missing 10 free throws is not going to get it done. And as we continue to grow and get better -- which this team is because they recognize that -- we'll continue to get better throughout that."

Orlando is going to take a game like this as a learning experience. And they are going to recognize that despite the mistakes they made, they still came out with the win.

The Jazz scratched and clawed, making 16 of 37 threes (43.2 percent) thanks to the turnovers and miscues setting them up, to stay in the game. But they never pulled away.

Orlando, despite the turnovers and misses from the perimeter, still did a lot of the things the team must do to win.

The Magic won the paint 56-30. They held the Jazz to 18 for 43 (41.9 percent shooting) inside the 3-point line. Utah had only a 110.3 offensive rating, well below its season average and an above-average defensive game for Orlando.

The Magic put a lot of good together. But they still had to scratch the game out.

The team ultimately came through in the clutch. Whether that was Paolo Banchero scoring 14 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter to pace Orlando through the rough waters early on. Or whether that was Suggs stepping up to his three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for 10 points.

Or even whether that was Suggs recovering from a poor foul on a 3-pointer to answer his second three with a block at the rim to help secure the lead and the victory.

This Magic team still makes a lot of winning plays. And they still do it with that smile on their face that they are enjoying this ride as much as everyone else.

"I think overcoming and responding to adversity is the biggest takeaway from tonight," Suggs said after Thursday's game. "Whether you are not feeling the best mentally, physically, whatever it is, taking care of that task at hand with this unit. And I think with the guys that we have in the locker room makes it easy to do that. We're very competitive. It's a fun group, it's a loving group. Everyone wants each other to succeed and ultimately for the team to succeed."

That is the joy the team does not want to lose. But that is also the youth that is still prevalent in the team. The good times still give way to struggle. Things can be rough for the team and as much fun as the team wants to have things still have to be serious. They always have to respond.

The team did so over and over again. They have heart and resiliency that belies their age. Against a struggling team like the Jazz, perhaps they could get away with that.

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The lesson they are learning is that soon they will not have this margin for error. And the time is now to ensure they are playing to a standard that will help them win when the postseason begins.