The 2016/17 season hasn’t gone how the Orlando Magic had planned.
With high expectations coming into the season, the struggles the Magic have faced have been of high proportions. From failed roster construction, to inconsistent effort on a nightly basis, the season has been trying for the Magic.
Yet, with 20 games left after their 110-99 victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night, the Magic are looking at the rest of the season with high hopes.
Friday night’s victory, coupled with the teams victory against the Atlanta Hawks last Saturday night, gives the Magic something to build on. They’ve shown they can play with, and beat, teams who are in line for a playoff birth, or fighting for one of their own.
They’ve also shown that they have the personnel to play an uptempo style, and have success doing so.
Against the Heat on Friday night, the Magic, led by Elfrid Payton’s frenetic pace of play, jumped all over the Heat early, scoring 14 of their first 26 points on the fast break. Payton, along with high-flyer Aaron Gordon, wrecked havoc in the open court, combining for 12 of those 14 fast break points.
Their chemistry was also a key for the Magic late in the game, as the duo hooked up on a key alley-oop that ended a 10-0 Heat run late in the fourth quarter, and sparked a quick 7-0 Magic run to push the lead back to 13, and out of harms way.
Following the game, coach Frank Vogel said he thought Payton played “one of his better games of the year.”
“He didn’t score a ton of points, but just had great control, played with great confidence. Worked to defend, and you see the plus 27 in the box score... He was a big part of the win.”
A player known for his ability to play in the open court and have success doing so, Payton fits right into the uptempo style that the Magic are looking to push.
Add in Gordon, Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier, and the Magic have a formidable foursome who can wreck havoc in the open court with their playmaking and finishing ability.
“Space helps everyone,” said Vogel. “It really does and it definitely helps him [Payton]. I mean, he’s a great open court player and when you’re running not with a big man down the lane, and clogging things up, but we’re running with space now. He has a lot more room to attack in the open court when you see he’s most dangerous, so it definitely helps him.”
The Magic still have a long way to go, and they know that. While the playoffs are, at best, a long shot at this point, they still think they can get there. If they aren’t able to, however, they want, and need to be able to learn how to win as a unit.
“Collectively, everyone needs to be on the same page,” said Gordon when asked about the team needing to “learn how to win” following the game. “What that means is everyone being bought into a scheme. Knowing how to win means understanding how we’re going to win, and everyone buying into it and bringing that night-in and night-out. Holding each other accountable and playing to a standard of basketball that you play at regardless of how you’re feeling.”
There’s still a long way to go for the Magic this season, but Friday night gives them something to build off of. After having success playing with pace, the Magic will likely be continuing to play with their higher pace, looking for more opportunities to score easy baskets.
If they’re able to, they’ll be able to fully build that ever so illusive identity and learn how they win games.