Paolo Banchero found the calm to break the storm

In a chaotic and physical game, Paolo Banchero proved to be a calm to help the team weather it. His determination and consistency ultimately helped the Magic break through for a major road win.
Paolo Banchero shook off a slow start to take over the game and help the Orlando Magic score a win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Paolo Banchero shook off a slow start to take over the game and help the Orlando Magic score a win over the New Orleans Pelicans. / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

38. Magic Pelicans Final 04.03.24. 108. 69. Final. 117

On one of Paolo Banchero's first shot attempts of Wednesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, he worked his way into the paint and toward the basket only to miss the shot short. He grabbed an offensive rebound on another a few moments later only to miss the putback

Banchero was getting to the line, but the frustration over missed shot after missed shot was getting to him. The frustration has been growing for a while as Banchero often steals looks at the officials or is slow to get up to try to milk a missed foul call.

It is unfair to ask a 21-year-old second-year player to carry so much responsibility. But his attitude, body language and aggression are the impetus for everything the Magic do. He is their team leader and players urge their young, budding star to take on a more vocal leadership role.

Everything starts with his actions. And with the Magic mired in a major shooting slump to start their game against the Pelicans, they needed their star to assert himself. They needed to follow his lead.

Banchero understood that better than most. He said he knew he did not play with the right mindset and aggression in recent games. As the season winds down and the Playoffs come into focus, he has to step his game up. He has to play better.

He needed the poise and composure to do that. Things are never easy, even for a player as good and talented as Banchero is. Everyone had to ride the waves of this game.

There were a lot of them before the Magic settled in for a 117-108 victory over the Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on Wednesday.

"I think it's a mindset of always being in attack mode," Banchero said after Wednesday's win. "The last couple of games I didn't have that mindset, I let my foot off the gas. Maybe that's because of the opponent or whatever it may be. Just getting back to that mind frame. Seven games left. I told one of our coaches it's time for me to get back into that mode and try to finish these last seven strong and go into the postseason with some momentum."

Banchero averaged only 18.8 points per game during the homestand. Some blowouts probably depressed his minutes. But even in the three losses, Banchero struggled, scoring 20.0 points per game on 39.6 percent shooting. He looked a bit passive at times too, settling for threes.

Banchero had to set the tone for the game in some fashion with the Magic back on the road. He had to be aggressive.

An 0-for-7 start was probably not what he had in mind. But through that rough stretch, Banchero kept attacking. He got to the foul line for seven first-quarter free throws. Almost all of his looks were good shots. And so while the team struggled to hit shots early in the game, there was no sense of panic. There was faith that things would turn out.

When Banchero finally hit his first shot, he did look up to the heavens, thankful for some relief. But then the lid was open. Banchero had the right mindset and now he had the basket to go with it. It was a matter of time.

Banchero put on a show for the fans at Smoothie King Center, playing aggressively and decisively to score 12 of his 32 points in the third quarter and help the Magic build and expand their lead.

He picked apart the Pelicans' defense, picking his matchup (mostly Dyson Daniels) and beating him on the block or hitting him with jumpers before the defense could double him.

Orlando was in full control and everyone was following Banchero's lead.

"He's a special kid," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's win. "The way in which he plays, finds his teammates, took on defensive challenges tonight. His ability to keep trusting his teammates and the ability to trust him to make the right play down the stretch. Every single one of these games you continue to see him grow and see exactly what he's doing and the trust that his teammates continue to have in him."

The game marked Banchero's 10th 30-point game of the season, a level of scoring mastery the Magic have not seen in a very long time. It has been something the team can take for granted.

And when Banchero gets going like that and is able to carry some of the offensive load, it does indeed radiate out to other parts of the team.

Wagner had a strong game too with 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-6 shooting from deep. He added five assists as he played with poise. His big scoop shot with 3:07 left restored an 11-point lead and stemmed the tide during a chaotic and emotional finish to the game. He scored 11 points in the third quarter too, helping the Magic pull away.

Everything starts with those two star players. And the Magic followed their lead in the decisive moments.

"I think everybody has that responsibility but it has been communicated to us that we should be vocal and should take responsibility as leaders as well," Wagner said after Wendesday's win. "I think we're both trying to do our best with that. As you said, we're young, we're not going to be perfect to start. But we're doing a solid job."

The game needed the composure from the team's leaders. Whether it was that poor start to the game or whether it was the chaos of the end of the game.

There were eight total technical fouls handed out including one that could have unraveled the Magic after Jalen Suggs took a nasty fall on what turned out to be a travel. The Magic could have lost their cool then.

But the Magic reeled it back in. Banchero and Wagner had the ball in their hands and stayed the course to ensure the victory.

Both Banchero and Wagner play with a calmness and poise that often belies their competitiveness and intensity. The team has had to lean on them for that all year long. That is again asking a lot of such young players and they have had some mixed and inconsistent results.

But these are the games the Magic have to learn how to win. These are the games when they have to lean on these players more.

This is what stars do, they set the tone and prove to be the calm in the storm and chaos.

As the Magic inch closer to the Playoffs, Banchero can be the calm in the storm. He sets the tone for the team.

"My teammates tell me that and coaches tell me all the time I have to set the tone," Banchero said after Wednesday's win. "When I'm not playing to the level I should be it rubs off to everyone else. Carrying that responsibility, I can't take it lightly. We are in a crucial part of the season. We've got to get these wins so we can be in the best position possible."

That best position possible is looking clearer by the day. On a chaotic night in the NBA, the Orlando Magic are looking like they will finish a half game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for third and two games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for second.

Whatever lull the Magic went through a week ago, they have come out of it weathering that storm and putting themselves in a position to make some noise in the Playoffs. They certainly should believe they can.

Next. Franz Wagner mastery 04.03.24. Franz Wagner's shooting struggles covering up career year. dark

And with Banchero feeling the need to be more assertive and lead this team, they can push through and deliver.