Orlando Magic will have to become road warriors to end the season

The Orlando Magic close the season with a three-game road trip with the pressure ramping up to the Playoffs. They have and will have to become better on the road to accomplish their goals.
The Orlando Magic have one last thing to prove to themselves ahead of the Playoffs. They have to learn how to win on the road to secure their spot.
The Orlando Magic have one last thing to prove to themselves ahead of the Playoffs. They have to learn how to win on the road to secure their spot. / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic had rattled the New Orleans Pelicans on the road. The Pelicans were frustrated as three players got ejected in the final seven seconds of the game.

New Orleans needed the win badly as the team continued to slide from the standings -- going from fighting for homecourt advantage in the Western Conference to trying to get out of the Play-In Tournament. Things change that quickly in the final week of the season.

The Magic had a lot of reasons to celebrate their poise and composure in that win. They had scored a critical win on their Playoff journey. They had done it away from home too where they could only rely on each other.

But Orlando too would ride the roller coaster.

The intensity and fire that were so key to the win over the New Orleans Pelicans were not present in the Spectrum Center in the shocking loss to the Charlotte Hornets. They followed that up with a win over the Chicago Bulls that rose them to third in the East and one game back of the Milwaukee Bucks for second.

There is still a lot to play for. And the road ahead for the Magic will not be an easy one with a three-game road trip starting Tuesday against the Houston Rockets followed by a pair of critical games against the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers with major standings implications.

If Orlando is going to reach its goals and gain homecourt advantage, the team will have to do something it is still struggling with -- win on the road.

The Playoffs are tantalizingly close, but there is still work to do beyond the excitement ahead.

"We talk about it a little bit. But I feel like it has been more of an exciting conversation," Jalen Suggs said of the growing pressure in games after Tuesday's shootaround. "Everyone looking forward to the possibilities and what we have an opportunity to do. Nerves, emotions, all of that are human nature and I think that comes naturally. Everyone is so excited about the possibilities that we have and confident in the group that we have and going forward."

The Magic do have a lot they are capable of doing.

They will clinch a Playoff spot Tuesday with a win or two losses among the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers. The Magic can clinch a playoff berth outright by going .500 in their final four games.

That only adds to the pressure of Tuesday's game with such a difficult road ahead. The Magic have to win on the road to get where they want to go and ensure their Playoff spot and Game 1 at Kia Center next weekend.

Orlando has had its issues on the road.

The Magic are just 18-20 on the road this season. They are 16th in the league in road wins this season. Orlando's defense drops to 113.3 points allowed per 100 possessions away from the Kia Center (eighth in the league) and the offense craters to 110.7 points per 100 possessions.

As would be expected of any young team, learning how to win on the road has been one of the biggest challenges for the team this season.

That gets to the biggest thing for the Magic. They know their defense travels and that is why they feel like they can find success.

"They understand a big portion of it is the defense travels more than anything," coach Jamahl Mosley said before Friday's loss in Charlotte. "We had games this year on the road where we may not have shot it well and the defense may have taken a hit. But what they are continuing to understand is our defense is going to carry us. If shots are falling, that's a bonus. But we have to hang our hat on the defensive end and make sure we find the right matchups and situations offensively to give ourselves an advantage."

What stood out about that loss to the Hornets was how poor the defense played. The Magic gave up their most points since their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder before the All-Star Break. That game Friday was the team's sixth-worst defensive performance by defensive rating this season.

That should serve as a lesson of how critical defense is when the team goes on the road. But it is a lesson the Magic have been learning slowly this year.

Since the All-Star Break, the Magic have gone 6-3 away from the Kia Center with a 113.2 offensive rating and 113.9 defensive rating. The defense still travels, even if it is not as dominant as it might be at home. But the team's offense has started to travel too.

Heading into Friday's game against the Charlotte Hornets, the Orlando Magic had won four of their past five road games (the lone loss in that stretch to the New York Knicks).

Friday's game was a fresh reminder that winning on the road is hard. But it is something the team has improved on and something the team will need to improve on as the Playoffs approach.

To win in the Playoffs, the Magic will have to win on the road. They need to win on the road just to make the Playoffs this week.

"Winning games on the road is [important] in the playoffs as well," Moe Wagner said after shootaround Friday in Charlotte. "You got to find your groove. You got to find your mojo on the road especially. You've got to lock in. You don't sleep in your own bed so the team becomes that much more important. For a young team, it's awesome to have that mindset to take care of business on the road."

The Magic are still going to have to figure out how to take care of business. This week will be a big test. If there is hand-wringing on where the Magic ultimately end up in the standings, it is because of how difficult this road trip is and the challenge of playing on the road.

This is a big point of growth for this team. The Magic have hit every marker for growth throughout the season.

Winning on the road is difficult. Teams have to keep their composure in hostile environments and without the comforts of home. You have to be prepared for bumps on the road along the way.

What the Magic hope is that they have the foundation to carry them through on the road. They will need that foundation to succeed.

"We've been locked in from the beginning of the game to the end," Markelle Fultz said after shootaround Friday. "Everyone playing their role as far as contributing in the way they need to. Whether you are a starter or whether you are coming off the bench, making sure we are holding each other accountable. I think we have done a great job playing 48 minutes of basketball and not getting overwhelmed if calls are not going our way or shots are not falling. Really depending ont he defensive end of the basketball. And then offensively we've been making shots. It has been helping us a lot. Just getting in the mindset and getting ready for playoff basketball."

The Magic still have work to do to clinch their spot in the Playoffs. They will have to do a lot of that work away from the Kia Center. They will have to prove themselves on the road to find their piece of success.

To succeed in the Playoffs, it takes a team with the kind of toughness and solid identity to win on the road. The Magic are still working their way toward that.

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This week will prove how close they are.