Orlando Magic's win streak is over, now it's about peaking in April

The Orlando Magic's win franchise-record-tying win streak ended at nine thanks to a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. The team though knows it was not the goal. The goal is to be ready for April. And that is the focus for the team as their season continues.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic have been slipping on the tail end of the win streak. The Brooklyn Nets finally made them pay for it.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic have been slipping on the tail end of the win streak. The Brooklyn Nets finally made them pay for it. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

101. 38. Magic Nets 12.02.23. 129. 147. Final

The Orlando Magic has always made their intentions for the season clear.

They may not know what April basketball and postseason basketball feels like, but the team has always been determined to get to that moment. It was something the team did not hide from during the preseason and training camp. It was the clearly stated goal.

Nothing is going to make the team waver from that or lose focus on that goal. Whether that is the team's success or the team's struggles. There is always more work to do. That has been the defining characteristic of this team.

It is hard not to revel in a successful opening quarter of the season where the team has established itself as more than just an up-and-coming team. Orlando's nine-game win streak included wins over the defending champion Denver Nuggets and Eastern Conference front-runner Boston Celtics.

The question will be whether this is a team that is here to stay. The question is going to be just how good this Magic team can be.

Their nine-game win streak was going to end. The team seemed to be bracing for that for a while even as they worked hard to keep it going. They could feel some things slipping and spoke about how they were playing to their standard. They knew eventually it would catch up to them.

The question then now that it has caught up to them and the win streak is over is: How do they respond? And how does the team build and repeat what was so successful during this win streak to make this start have some lasting power?

That will be the question facing the team moving forward. The win streak is over -- the Brooklyn Nets made quick work of the Orlando Magic with a 129-101 win at Barclays Center that featured Mikal Bridges scoring 26 of his 42 points in a 41-point first quarter for the hosts.

So the question is how do the Magic build on this? How do they make these gains permanent and secure their place among the best teams in the Eastern Conference?

Their nine-game win streak announced the team to the world. Now what? How does the team build on this success?

"It's cool to acknowledge it and be proud of it," Franz Wagner said after Saturday's game. "But we don't want to be good in early December. We have to make sure we keep getting better and hopefully start another one."

Orlando faced a tall task when it traveled to Brooklyn on Saturday. The game had schedule loss written all over it with a difficult road trip from Orlando to Brooklyn after a win Friday at the Amway Center.

Still, the Magic have entered a stage where they expect to win every game that they play. They have entered a stage where they are playing to a standard more than they are playing an opponent.

They have talked about this even through the win streak as they tried to stay level on the incredible highs of setting a franchise mark and announcing themselves to the rest of the league and gained attention. They understood they were the team others were hunting now. Orlando was not sneaking up on anybody.

That was clear with how the Nets blitzed the Magic. They were far more aggressive and energetic, winning every loose ball. Orlando was not only a step slow, but easily frustrated by the team's inability to finish at the rim and get to the foul line.

The Nets took that frustration and turned those into quick points. The Magic found themselves down quickly. And they had to climb uphill.

Credit to Orlando for fighting its way back into the game. The Magic trailed by as much as 25 points in the first half and climbed to within nine in the third quarter. They found the energy and the defensive intensity that defined the Magic's success this season.

But Orlando ran out of gas as expected. Spencer Dinwiddie scored the final 11 points of the third quarter for the Nets and staked a 13-point lead to the fourth quarter. Orlando just did not have enough in reserve to climb the hill again.

Now the Magic have been humbled. There was no lesson learned while winning this time around. There was no solace of, "At least we won" to paper over the issues that have plagued this team throughout the week.

A loss should get this team's attention.

"I just think our defense wasn't that good," Franz Wagner said after Saturday's game. "Individually, I've got to be better defensively. I think the whole game we weren't really able to stop them whether it was in transition or guarding solidly and them getting an offensive rebound. We've got to make sure we clean that up for the next couple of games."

After dominating the league defensively this season, Orlando gave up 129.0 points per 100 possessions in the loss to Brooklyn on Saturday. It was the fourth straight game and fifth game in six outings giving up a defensive rating worse than the team's average. Brooklyn may just have Orlando's number -- those two games represent the worst defensive efforts of the season.

Still, even on a more granular level, the Magic have seen some significant slipping.

The Nets scored 56 points in the paint. This came after the Washington Wizards had 54 in Friday's win and 52 in Wednesday's win. The Magic for the season give up 48.0 points in the paint per game, a number that has dropped to 11th.

The Nets tallied 24 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds. This a game after the Wizards had 16 on eight offensive rebounds in Friday's game. The Magic for the season give up 12.5 second-chance points per game, still in the top 10.

That is a sign of how much Orlando's defense has started to slip. Orlando was able to hide with a dominant offense this week against weaker competition. The Magic struggled with those teams too because they played at a faster pace and got up and down more.

It was one thing to say they needed to play better and play to their standard. It is another thing to go out and do it. As Moe Wagner said, it is human nature to let up when you are on that kind of a win streak. It is a credit to them that they kept winning.

"As you sit back and look, it's not every day you can run nine straight," Mosley said after Saturday's game. "For this group to tie a franchise record in the form and fashion that we've done it is very big. You have to say we are proud of this group and what they have done and how hard they have played and they've played together and share it. Now we have to move on and start another one. I think that's what we have to look at is one day at a time the same way and get back some of the details that we've missed on."

Now comes a loss. One that might have the easy excuse of the back-to-back and the tough travel. But one that should serve as a reminder of how much work this team still has to do. A loss that should remind the team that their success is earned and not guaranteed.

The goal is still clear: To play that 83rd game in April. And the expectations have undoubtedly raised with what the team has accomplished in these first 20 games. But there is so much more work to do to be the team they want to be.

"I think you can't overlook it," Banchero said after Saturday's game. "It is something to be proud of as a team. Everyone in the locker room is. But we also understand that we have a chance to bounce back and hopefully go on another streak. Obviously, it's over and we're ready to move on."

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Saturday was a reminder of how far this team has come and what this team has accomplished. But also how much work there is left to do to be the team they want to be.