December 2, 2021

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Orlando Magic have a lot to learn after opening night loss

Final

Orlando Magic

97

San Antonio Spurs

123

Nobody expected this to be easy for the Orlando Magic.

A complete teardown is rarely easy. And it rarely produces results overnight.

There will be glimmers and moments. But consistency will be a never-ending chase. Every game is a learning experience. Everyone just hopes the lessons sink in.

In the meantime, there will be hard lessons and difficult moments. There will be times the team lets go of the rope and gets down on themselves. There will be bad nights when nothing seems to work.

Nights like the Orlando Magic’s opener against the San Antonio Spurs.

This young Orlando Magic team took a lot of lumps in their season opener. There is a lot of learning to do ahead.

This was a learning lesson on multiple fronts.

A late curveball with a late scratch to Gary Harris that jumbled the Magic’s starting lineup, robbed the team of a calming presence and another shooter. It threw the team for a bit of a loop and they struggled to fill in the rotation.

The Magic played with some purpose early on. They got backdoor cuts for Franz Wagner and deep seals for Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter to stake an early seven-point lead. The team’s energy was up.

That quickly dissipated as the team broke the lineup. All the flow and energy disappeared as the team struggled to break down the defense.

The Spurs pulled ahead in the second quarter. They blew the doors open late in the third, expanding their lead to as much as 28 points in a 123-97 victory at AT&T Center to open the season.

Orlando committed turnovers, giving possessions away and giving up live-ball possessions, feeding a potent San Antonio fast break. In all, the Spurs scored 21 points off 16 Magic turnovers and recorded 26 fast-break points. Orlando was disorganized as the team tried to attack San Antonio’s aggressive defense and even more disorganized trying to scramble and track in transition.

It was a frustrating night for a Magic team that is trying to pride itself on its effort. The Spurs beat them and put them on their back foot. The team lost a bit of itself under pressure.

“At this point for our team, we can’t be outworked,” Carter said after Wednesday’s game. “It’s one thing if they are making more shots than us or they are doing certain things on the court. In terms of the 50/50 balls and the offensive glass, taking care of the ball or getting back in transition. Those are things we can control. I felt like those are things we have got to do a better job of.”

This is a young Orlando team. The Magic are going to make plenty of mistakes and look their age throughout the season. There was a lot the team was struggling to handle.

The Spurs’ switching on defense made it difficult for the Magic to execute any offense. Suddenly all those details were lost. The team played a bit more tentative and the turnovers piled up.

But it was the things they could control that seemed to hurt most.

Many of the Magic’s turnovers came when they simply fumbled the ball on passes or struggled to handle defensive pressure. These were not “aggressive turnovers” where the team was trying to make a play. This was simply them trying to enter their play.

Adding to that, the team’s seeming desire to get back into the game and individuals trying to do it themselves only dug the team further in the hole. The offense was stuck and just could not get moving. That only added to the issues.

Carter was one of the few players who found any consistent offensive rhythm. He scored 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting (in a surprisingly short 19 minutes of action).

Carter and Bamba were the only players on the Magic without a negative plus-minus (Bamba scored a team-high 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting) suggesting how much the Magic’s bench groups struggled.

It was still the little things that mattered most.

A Magic team that wants to be first to the floor and playing with energy seemed to get down and stay down once the tide hit them. The Magic just did not have any answers in the end.

“Offensively, I feel like we got very stagnant,” Carter said after Wednesday’s game. “We weren’t moving at all. They started to switch 1 through 4 and 1 through 5 even at one point, and we weren’t taking advantage of certain mismatches or certain opportunities. Not necessarily saying someone needs to go one-on-one or someone needs to post up, but simply moving the ball, making cuts or moving the ball.”

Suggs added the switching defense created a lot of stagnation in the offense, forcing them to reset at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down. The Magic lost a lot of the flow and movement that helped them early.

That hurt them on the other end too.

Suggs and Carter both said they felt the Magic’s half-court defense was solid. They got in trouble when the team gave up turnovers and got beat in transition. Their defense struggled to track players in transition. Then they gave up offensive rebounds at key times, giving the Spurs second-chance opportunities.

There was a lot to clean up.

Still, it takes a lot for a team to go from down 15 to down by nearly 30 points. The Magic fought back after going down in the second quarter. The lead crept to within 10 points late in the third quarter.

Over the final four minutes of the third quarter, the Spurs expanded their lead. They took turnovers and turned them into quick baskets and 3-pointers. It was a barrage the Magic had no answer for.

It was a struggle to do the right things consistently. A negative sign coming from the team’s first game.

This is going to be a battle for the Magic all year. This young group is going to have to learn to stick with things and remain aggressive even as they dive into new situations.

There is a lot to learn. Maybe more than anyone expected even for a team this young.

“These are the parts about learning how to be resilient,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday’s game. “When you’re down, you’ve got to make sure you keep fighting. There were some hits that we took in their game of runs. I think our guys are learning to sustain their effort and keep fighting no matter what’s going on in the game.”

Orlando will have bad shooting nights and games where the team struggles to break a tied-together and locked-in defense. This will not be the last time the Magic get blown out.

The disappointing part of this opener was how the team seemed to lose the identity the team had tried to build throughout the course of the preseason. Orlando was not locked in defensively and seemingly did not have the effort to get themselves over the hump.

Eventually, it felt like the Magic were not working together on either end to reduce the deficit or stem the tide.

This whole game was a learning experience for everyone. The question will be whether the team will learn these lessons and how the team adjusts moving forward.

Orlando Magic have a lot to learn after opening night loss