Will the real Orlando Magic stand up? Two quarters define the poles of this team

The Orlando Magic are playing the role of a typical .500 team. In one moment they can look like world beaters, in the next they look like they are figuring themselves out. The battle for consistency is the struggle for the season.

The Orlando Magic had to fight off the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter as they seek consistency this season.
The Orlando Magic had to fight off the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter as they seek consistency this season. / Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
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Coming out of the halftime locker room against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, the Orlando Magic faced a real test.

They had used a surge to take a six-point lead before the half and seemed to be building momentum. It is precisely what the team did to close the second quarter of Monday's loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The Magic then proceeded in that game to score just 12 points and lose the lead they built within the quarter.

That could not happen again. The Magic had to learn their lessons and grow and develop.

What they did in the third quarter was encouraging. And it should have led to a celebratory and easy victory against one of the worst teams in the league.

But things are never easy for this young Magic team. Everything is a lesson.

Orlando gave up a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter to see an 18-point lead trimmed to three in about four minutes. The Magic could not find a shot to break the run and faced a three-point lead heading to crunch time.

The Magic delivered. Wendell Carter made two free throws to give some breathing room, and then Markelle Fultz got a steal and a tough floater to put the Magic up seven to get the team to the end of the game. Wins are all that matters right now.

The whiplash, though, remains the issue. Orlando can look like a world-beater in one moment and completely feeble the next.

The bottom line is this is a Magic team seeking consistency.

"It's all about growth for this group," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's win. "We continue to have to go through these experiences to help us understand that it's a 48-minute game. We were obviously on the other end of this in the Dallas game. You can reflect right away and understand teams are going to go on runs like we went on a run against them. We've got to keep our poise no matter what happens. We have to go back to doing what we do to get that lead and stay the same."

The tape review on the flight to Minneapolis will show just how good this Magic team can be and how easily that can slip away.

It is hard to understate just how strong that third quarter from the Magic was and how refreshing it was to see the team playing at that level -- granted, even against the Spurs.

Orlando outscored San Antonio 34-21 and took as much as a 25-point lead. The ball zipped around with 12 assists (including four from Paolo Banchero). The Magic made five of their seven 3-pointers in the third quarter. They forced six turnovers for 11 points in the quarter alone. Orlando gave up an 80.8 defensive rating in the third quarter.

This is what the Magic are supposed to look like.

"I think that third quarter was a better version of us," Mosley said after Wednesday's game. "I think the way we were able to get into the basketball, defend the right way, defend without fouling. That was very good on our aggression part turning them over. Just continuing to grow and learn we have to continue to play for 48 minutes of a game."

That shows how far things fell in the fourth quarter, as the Magic's attention seemed to wonder. They did not run with the same fluidity.

The Magic defended fine and kept the Spurs off the line -- they made just two of six free throws in the fourth quarter. And Orlando still forced six turnovers in the final quarter. But a lot of that has to do with the mistakes this young Spurs team will naturally make.

Gregg Popovich said after the game that San Antonio adjusted to the ball pressure Orlando put on the team in the fourth quarter. That adjustment is critical with how hard the Magic can play.

The Magic also just started to miss shots -- missing all five 3-pointers and shooting 5 for 28 overall. The team might have missed open shots, but the team played at a much slower and lethargic pace. That led to six turnovers and a lot of late-shot-clock actions.

It felt like the Magic were playing the game the fans wanted -- a lazy stroll through the fourth quarter. This team is still learning to bring the same intensity through every moment of the game.

Orlando posted a 68.0 offensive rating in the fourth quarter. And while the defense still held steady -- a 100.0 defensive rating -- that offensive downturn ultimately hurts the team.

That should be the biggest lesson for the team at this juncture in the season: The offense has to be good enough to take advantage of how well the team plays on defense.

Everyone can see the team's offensive inconsistency -- Orlando is 24th in offensive rating and the worst 3-point shooting team in the league. It is the most significant need this team has. Everyone is eyeing offense at the trade deadline and the next transaction window.

That is at the core of these struggles. Orlando will go into these dark offensive holes where they are grinding and trying to find their way.

Wagner said after the game that a big part of what this team has to learn is how to limit runs, snap back to attention and focus at critical moments. After losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, the talk was about not getting bored by the simple and continuing to go to the well until the other team stops it.

Wednesday's game in San Antonio highlighted the need for consistency, focus and attention to detail.

Even against the Spurs, the Magic showed how vital consistency can be. The Magic must work toward this for the rest of the season.

Wendell Carter getting swagger back, off trade deadline. dark. Next. Carter swagger back 02.01.24

They have to find consistency and be consistently good. Everyone can see how possible it is.