Paolo Banchero: 'I've just got to be better'

The Orlando Magic are in the middle of a three-game losing streak with close losses. Their struggles start with their star who knows he has to play better ahead of the Playoffs.

Paolo Banchero is struggling to lift his team at this late stage of the season as the Orlando Magic fight for a Playoff spot.
Paolo Banchero is struggling to lift his team at this late stage of the season as the Orlando Magic fight for a Playoff spot. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Magic Clippers Final 03.29.24. 97. 38. Final. 100. 77

Paolo Banchero knows the responsibility is on him. That is the burden of the star player. And in a close game with the season winding down toward the playoffs, every eye is going to turn to him to deliver.

Banchero has delivered throughout the season. He is a confident player in close games. He hit the game-winners in Utah against the Utah Jazz, in Chicago against the Chicago Bulls, and in Detroit against the Detroit Pistons among many other clutch shots.

The 21-year-old star is capable of delivering. And as the Playoffs approach, the team knows it needs the ball in his hands at the end of the game and throughout.

The Magic will go as far as he takes them.

No matter the moment though, the Magic need Banchero at his best to go where they want to go. And Banchero knows that in the Orlando Magic's 100-97 loss to the LA Clippers on Friday, he fell short.

And he knows he has to take responsibility for that.

"I've just got to be better overall in all aspects," Banchero said after Friday's loss. "I've got to find a way to start better. I don't like how I'm playing right now. I've just got to work on it."

He has been falling shorter than his standard a lot lately. And that has the Magic limping a little bit as they wind down their season.

Banchero committed two critical turnovers down the stretch of the game that gave the Clippers the window to take the lead and extend it to its final narrow margin.

After giving the Magic a one-point lead on a 10-foot floater with 1:28 to play, Jonathan Isaac secured a block to give the Magic the chance to extend their lead. But Paolo Banchero tried driving on James Harden and lost the ball leading to a fast break. Kawhi Leonard ended up hitting a turnaround jumper over Jalen Suggs to give the Clippers the lead.

On the next possession, Banchero got the ball again and tried attacking off the dribble. But he picked up his dribble too soon and his attempt to pass back to the perimeter went off the back of Harden's hands for a steal. George ended up hitting a tough shot over Isaac to give the Clippers a three-point lead with 5.1 seconds to play.

The Magic got an inbound 3-point attempt from Franz Wagner, but he missed it. And one final attempt from deep three after the ball went out of bounds fell no good too.

In the end, the ball was in Banchero's hands and his turnovers prevented the Magic from getting a shot to retake the lead -- the biggest sin in a close game like this.

"Our level of concentration, I think being able to just make sure we're strong with it at the end of the day," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday's game. "I think our guys understand how they were gonna play, the physicality of the game. We got it, I think we met their physicality. They hit some very very tough shots and that's who they are. They have guys that do that. We do the same thing. They happen to make some down the stretch in that late game."

Turnovers have been an issue throughout the year. The team ranks 26th in the league with a 15.2 percent turnover rate (the worst mark among any team in the postseason picture). The Magic had 17 lead to 15 points in Friday's game.

Banchero leads the team with 3.2 per game. He has 15 in the last three games overall. That has been a creeping problem for him too as he plays more on the ball.

Mosley will continue to preach they need to take what the defense gives them. But the Magic can expect to see more pressure. The team has to be smarter with the ball and more intentional with its movement, Mosley said.

Orlando needs to keep the faith with Banchero. He is still their ticket to glory and their best path to make noise int eh Playoffs.

Late-game miscues are not a reason to abandon him completely -- just like a three-game losing streak on three narrow margins against Playoff teams is not a reason to abandon the season even if the fight for the 3-seed (2.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers) or the 4-seed (2 games behind the New York Knicks) is getting more distant with nine games remaining.

Banchero scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Magic, hitting 8 of 18 shots and just 1 of 6 3-pointers. He scored 15 points in playing the entire third quarter, making five of eight shots and four of five free throws.

Banchero's third-quarter boost gave the Magic some life after the Clippers built their lead with a 7-0 run out of the locker room. It helped unlock an offense seemingly stuck for much of the game with both Banchero and Wagner struggling from the floor.

His dunks awoke the Kia Center crowd -- the seventh-largest in the building's Magic history -- and created a frenzied playoff atmosphere.

His seven turnovers though stand out. They came on bad passes and having the ball ripped away by the strong interior defense from Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Ivica Zubac. He was clearly very frustrated too with some of his misses. He began settling for jumpers, taking as many threes (six) as shots in the restricted area (five).

Banchero's shot selection has been questionable. He has taken 18 threes in these last three games, a sign that he is settling on the perimeter too much instead of attacking the rim, where he is at his most dangerous. Some of these turnovers play a role in that decision as teams have bumped him and dislodged the ball with officials calling fewer fouls.

That mid-range jumper and turnaround fadeaway that looked automatic earlier in the month and in February has suddenly run dry.

Banchero has averaged 20.0 points per game and shot 21 for 53 (39.6 percent) during this three-game losing streak. He is 3 for 19 (15.8 percent) from three during this losing streak.

Banchero's frustration has come out too. He gave an exasperated look to the sky after he hit his only three. But it is easy to spot him look at the officials or spending an extra moment on the floor looking for a foul call rather than getting back.

For a team leader and key player, this sets a negative tone and puts the team in a deficit. One they cannot afford their star to put them in.

"I think my consistency has been good all year," Banchero said after Friday's loss. "I think I'm just not in the best mood. Even if I am frustrated, I have to control what I can control and go out there and make shots and make plays. I had seven turnovers, that's way too many. I have to do the things I can do to be the best version of myself on the court."

The Magic are certainly looking for that best version of Banchero. The Magic certainly need that best version of Banchero.

Orlando Magic need to start preparing Playoff rotations. dark. Next. Magic Playoff Rotations 03.29.24

As Banchero said, the team counts on him and on Wagner. If Banchero shows up the way he is supposed to, they win these three games and their playoff outlook looks better this evening.