The Orlando Magic have made a habit of playing in close games.
Sunday nights loss to the Indiana Pacers was Orlando's 23rd game decided by six points or less. Across those 23 games, the Magic have won eight and dropped 15. Of those 23, four have come in their last five games, with the team splitting the four, with wins against the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks, and late losses to the San Antonio Spurs and aforementioned Pacers.
Every close game seems to bring something different out of the woodworks for the Magic.
Friday night it was their stellar defense that helped them end the game on a 26-11 run against the Mavs. Perviously, it was winning, or losing, 50/50 balls that ultimately cost them.
Sunday it was their inability to both finish around the rim, and convert at the free throw line.
Knifing their way through the Pacers defense, the Magic were able to get to the basket with relative ease at times, but seemingly couldn't get the ball to fall through the hoop. Overall for the game, Orlando shot 20-of-40 in the restricted area, accounting for nearly half of their overall shot attempts -- they finished the game with 91 overall.
"In an NBA game, you have to be able to make layups," said Magic coach Scott Skiles. "We had basically one good fast break tonight and it was right at the end of the game between Victor [Oladipo] and Aaron [Gordon]. The rest of the time we're just kind of throwing the ball away or not seeing people or going in, getting a layup, and missing it, which we did in the first half."
Gordon admitted his team missed "a lot of bunnies," and that missing those, along with free throws, comes back to bite you, especially in a close game.
Skiles said that the team pointed out multiple instances when guards were able to get into the lane, but chose to attempt tough shots over seven-footers that ended up being sent back. "[W]e drove in and our guards are trying to shoot over two seven-footers and literally shooting into their armpits when we had a couple of guys open."
Aside from their inability to finish around the rim, something that has been an issue for the team sporadically throughout the season, the struggles from the free throw line compounded issues for the team. After missing just four of their first 14 attempts, the Magic missed six crucial freebies in the fourth quarter, a time when the team had the Pacers in the penalty a mere 1 minute and 56 seconds into the quarter.
While they did a great job of drawing contact and getting to the line, their inconsistencies bit them. Missing six of their 15 fourth quarter attempts, coupled with the poor close range shooting, ultimately lost them the game.
Despite the struggles in those areas, the Magic can take some solace in their play in other areas.
The Magic moved the ball well all night, swinging it around the court to find the best looks possible. Their heightened ball movement led to the team notching 27 assists on 38 made field goals.
Along with their strong ball movement, the Magic once again played, generally, good defense. While they had lapses, they were able to slow the Pacers throughout spurts, and forced them into a season-high 10 first quarter turnovers, and a franchise tying 17 first half turnovers. Even though they turned them over just four times in the second half, some of that can be contributed to Indiana's tighter overall play.
With 28 games remaining on the season, the Magic will inevitably find themselves in more close games. Having lost games in seemingly every way imaginable, the Magic know what could happen to them if they struggle in one certain area more.
As the team continues to grow, they'll undoubtedly become better in those late game situations. However, when they have opportunities like they did in the first half to, potentially, put the Pacers away, they have to come and take those by the horns.
Winning in the NBA is tough, but it becomes even tougher when you beat yourself, as the Magic continue to learn.