Every young team in the NBA has to learn how to win games, be them close or blowouts. For some, it's easy, with them effortlessly winning games no matter how they play on a given night. For others, it's a hard fought grueling battle of finding consistency on both ends, night-in and night-out.
For the Orlando Magic, it's been the latter, with inconsistent performances continuing to plague the team, despite their improved winning ways.
Wednesday night against the lowly Brooklyn Nets was no different, as the Magic, the better team not only record wise, but on the court as well based on their previous meeting, struggled to get anything going. They were sleep walking against a team they should be able to go out and beat by 20 points on any given night.
It was a baffling performance for the team that boasts one of the best records in the league over the last month.
As the inconsistent performances continue to pile up, so do the questions surrounding the young Magic bunch. Are they really improving and buying into what the coaching staff is teaching? Is it a matter of shaking things up once again, or is this the team they're going to be?
Their performance against the Nets was a prime example. They came out and played down to their opponents, almost costing them a game that would not only hurt them now, but possibly late in the season as they fight and hope for a playoff birth.
Following the game, coach Scott Skiles said the team had trouble getting anything going, claiming his team looked like it was in slow motion. "It was a game we had to try to find a way at the end. Someone had to make plays for us," said Skiles.
That has been the case all too often for the Magic this season, who have found themselves in close game after close game. While some of the close games have come against playoff calibre teams -- they've played in 12 five point or fewer games, seven against playoff teams from last season -- they've struggled with teams who project to miss the playoffs this season, or missed out last year.
They have losses against the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. It took late buckets to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves twice, and some key stops, coupled with a big shot here or there to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, Nets and Portland Trail Blazers.
While they've shown improvement in their play, as well as statistically, there's still issues that the team just can't seem to kick. As Skiles as well as Victor Oladipo pointed out, they play 82 games, and sometimes they have poor performances like that.
"We had some plays tonight that we made during exhibition season that all of a sudden came back," said Skiles. "Kind of wild passes, and we were starring down people and they were deflecting passes, but there's 82 times, I mean you're going to have games like this. You're going to have games you're not as sharp as you need to be or you want to be and you have to find a way."
Those games happen; it's impossible for a team to play perfect basketball for 82 game, which is why it's very possible the Chicago Bulls record season of 72-10 may never be broken. But as the season continues to wear on, those performances continue to pop up all too often for the Magic.
Despite yet another performance they'd soon like to forget, the Magic are in a good position sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference heading into the new calendar year. Their ability to grind out those late, close games also shows how improved they really are. Had they played like they did against the Nets last season, they likely would've rolled over and lost in ugly fashion.
"We're really happy to get out of here with a "W" after performing like that most of the game," said Skiles.
Getting the victory was the most important thing for the Magic as they continue their rise in the Eastern Conference. However, with how close the Eastern Conference is -- the first place Cleveland Cavaliers hold just a five game lead on the tenth place Detroit Pistons -- having poor performances like this on an even more consistent basis could end up dooming the Magic.