"This is a growth period" for the Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic lost twice in blowouts to the Brooklyn Nets early in the season. As the season turns toward its end, they have come a long way to return the favor.

The Orlando Magic could take stock of their clear progress after a blowout victory over the Brooklyn Nets. It showed how far they have come and what their work has allowed them to do.
The Orlando Magic could take stock of their clear progress after a blowout victory over the Brooklyn Nets. It showed how far they have come and what their work has allowed them to do. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
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Magic Nets Final 02.27.24. 108. 38. Final. 81. 147

Wendell Carter did not play in the Orlando Magic's two blowout defeats in Brooklyn back in November and December. But he and his team seemed to remember them.

He said the feeling around the AdventHealth Training Center preparing for Tuesday's game was a feeling that they owed the Nets something. It gave the team a little bit more juice and a little bit more motivation heading into this one. Sometimes a team needs a little motivation to get them through a long season.

Sometimes a team needs a chance to check its progress and see how far they have come.

After the way the Brooklyn Nets buried the Orlando Magic with three-pointers in the first two games and after the way Mikal Bridges dominated the Magic in the first quarter of the second game to snap their nine-game win streak, the Magic may have felt like there was a lot more ground to make up. This was a hill they had to climb.

Perhaps the better lesson is that the team that took the Barclays Center floor in November and December is not the team they are today. Two of the worst and most disappointing losses of the season for the Magic came to this Nets team.

On Tuesday night, one of the team's better wins -- certainly one of its most dominant -- came against these same Nets.

No matter how anyone wants to slice it, this team has made some tremendous growth.

Orlando was locked in from the start Tuesday night, hitting shots, moving the ball and forcing turnovers. The team slowly pulled away before putting the hammer down in the third quarter. This turned into a rout with the Magic leading by as much as 33 points and making the fourth quarter pretty academic.

They could ease off the throttle with a scoreline that was as ugly as the game looked for the Nets. Orlando took care of business with a 108-81 victory at Kia Center on Tuesday.

Maybe not a statement made. But progress confirmed. These are not the same Magic from November and December. This is something entirely different.

"I think it's growth. We say every halftime for the most part make them call the first timeout," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday's game. "This is one of those times that we did it. We did it the right way. The ball was moving. We were sharing. But we guarded. That was the start of it. That set the tone. This is a growth period for our guys to understand exactly what they have to do at the beginning of the game and coming out of halftime."

The Magic never let the Nets get up, forcing a timeout less than a minute into the third quarter with five quick points and a disinterested Nets team still coming to grips with a disappointing season. The Magic did not play with their food, they put the game away.

These Nets are not the same Nets that derailed the Magic's In-Season Tournament hopes back in November or ended the nine-game win streak in December. They have made a lot of trades, getting rid of Magic killer Spencer Dinwiddie among others. They fired coach Jacque Vaughn at the All-Star Break. The team has been off-kilter really since that victory in early December.

Still, this is the same Magic team that struggled to stop three-point barrages and fell behind in the third quarter of their first game to give up the chance to win in the In-Season Tournament and the three-point shooting, particularly from Bridges (42 points including 26 in the first quarter) that put the Magic in too deep of a hole in their loss in December.

On both counts Tuesday, the Magic were dominant defensively, keeping the Nets to 8-for-31 shooting from deep and holding the Nets' young star to four points on 2-for-14 shooting.

Orlando learned its lesson. The team was locked in from the beginning and seemed eager to make a point. Or, probably more succinctly, to do its job. There might have been extra motivation, but there was extra focus not to let an inferior team hang around.

"It was great tonight," Franz Wagner said after Tuesday's game. "Communication, effort, just locked into the gameplan. We saw it in a different way against them this season. it was good for everyone to come locked in and do what we did."

It has been a season of a lot of lessons for this young Magic team.

The latest has been its poise and maturity. That has been something this young Magic team has had to work on throughout the year. They have had to learn maturity even as the pressure of the games they are playing and the moment grow.

Playing against a team they had not seen in three months and dominating that team so thoroughly -- without All-Star forward Paolo Banchero, to boot -- was a chance to see just how much they had grown in many ways. There may not be a direct comparison but the team's approach proved how focused they could be.

Orlando started everything with its defense. The Magic held the Nets to 39.2 percent shooting and 8 for 31 (25.8 percent) from three. More importantly, the Magic forced 22 turnovers for 29 points, proving themselves disruptive in passing lanes with 14 steals.

The Nets were not able to execute effectively and the Magic's defensive pressure buried them.

Orlando then turned those opportunities into quick passes. The Magic had 20 assists, including five from Franz Wagner. But everyone worked together to get players downhill. The Magic had 56 points in the paint. Wagner got downhill for 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting and five rebounds, taking advantage of some great screening from Wendell Carter.

Everyone had to fill in for Banchero's absence. But everyone also did their part to make up for it too. The Magic were just a steady drumbeat at 52.7-percent shooting. The offense flowed easily -- ignore the 19 turnovers behind the curtain.

The Magic just played their game. It was not important what their opponents did. They executed their gameplan to a tee and at high intensity.

"I think just being solid and sticking to our principles and what we do," said Caleb Houstan, who scored nine points on 3-for-4 shooting in a start. "Defending and attacking the rim. And from there, spreading out and guys being unselfish and playing hard."

The professional nature of this one and how thoroughly the Magic hammered the Nets is part of the team's overall growth. It is a sign of how much the team has grown and how it is readying for its playoff journey.

This team has taken some major steps this year to put themselves in a playoff position -- do not look now, but they trail the Philadelphia 76ers by a half-game for fifth in the Eastern Conference.

It is important to reflect on this growth with such a young team and understand how far the team has come. Just as it is important to understand how far the team still has yet to go.

Magic teach adaptability 02.27.24. Orlando Magic teaching adaptability with lineups. dark. Next

They are growing up quickly as Tuesday's win clearly showed.