The Orlando Magic set out for the 2015-16 NBA season with one goal in mind: make the playoffs.
Now, two days removed from their season finale loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the Magic are getting set for an important offseason as they continue rebuild into what they hope is a championship calibre team.
For the fourth year in a row, they didn't make the playoffs. In fact, they were eliminated some two and a half weeks before the end of the regular season.
Once seemingly poised to make it to the playoffs, the Magic crumbled when the heat was turned up on them.
After taking the league by storm in December -- they went an Eastern Conference best 10-5 in the month -- the Magic sat at 19-13, good enough for fourth best in the improved East. Things were going better than they had at any point in the previous four years.
They were defending at a high level, holding teams to 100.3 points per 100 possessions, good enough for a tie for the ninth best mark in the league, and sported the 11th best defensive field goal percentage. On top of their improved defense, their offense was playing at a higher level than it had in any of the previous four years as well.
Then the month of January happened.
A 2-12 month, which included blowout losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics, sent the Magic crashing off a cliff. Once holding a spot good enough for home court advantage in the playoffs, the Magic found themselves facing an uphill battle to get back into the race.
Their once stellar defense came crashing to a stop, allowing opponents to shooting nearly 46 percent in the month, the ninth worst mark in the league. Their inability to get stops led to opponents scoring 108.2 points per 100 possessions, the fourth worst mark in the league for that month.
Looking back on it, the team knows that January is what cost them a chance to make the playoffs, and get a taste of what every player wants.
"It's really frustrating," said Victor Oladipo. "If we could go back and change the past, we would. But, unfortunately, we can't."
Add in all the close games the Magic played in --the Magic played in 23 games decided by five points or fewer, going 8-15 in those contests-- and the team knows they let one slip away.
For coach Scott Skiles, one game in particular stuck out. On the road against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Magic found themselves up four with 17 seconds to go. A careless pass from Elfrid Payton, the Magic found themselves in an overtime battle against one of the Western Conferences best. They'd go on to lose in overtime, their sixth of eight consecutive losses.
"We have to win that game," said Skiles. "There’s just so many of those. As much as we discussed with the guys during that period of time we have to get our confidence back. We know we’re a good team. There’s still human nature involved where, you’re going out and getting beat every night. We just weren’t able to sprinkle in a handful of wins in games that we should’ve won that would’ve turned it around for us."
Everyone in the Magic organization wished they could get that month back, but knew they couldn't. It was a grueling month, that, as Elfrid Payton said, ultimately cost them their season.
"It was a tough stretch where we kind of let it get away from us," said Payton. "We just kind of had that little slip up, but we definitely know we’re on the right track. Just have to continue to push."
A once promising season quickly came toppling down for the Magic, but they can't hang their heads too much.
While it's disappointing to not be playing come this weekend, the team knows they made strides both individually, and as a whole unit.
The entire season is rarely defined by one game, week or month, but the Magic's month of January leaves them wondering as they head into the offseason.