With hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since Dwight Howard’s last season in pinstripes, the Orlando Magic had high hopes going into the 2016/17 season.
With a roster chalked full of new players, many of whom held high praise in NBA circles for their play on the defensive end, the Magic figured to be stout defensively. Add in coach Frank Vogel, who had built the Indiana Pacers into one of the best in the league on that end year after year, and it seemed likely the Magic would have some success.
That, ultimately, was not the case, with the roster proving to be a jumbled mess, and Vogel failing to get the most out of his guys on that end consistently.
As March approached, the Magic, fresh with a new look from a trade just before the leagues trading deadline, were in an all too familiar position of seeing their playoff chances dwindle with every passing game.
Then, the losses late in the season piled up. After heartbreaking losses to the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Boston Celtics, the Magic all but collapsed, managing only one win the rest of the season against the lowly Brooklyn Nets. After that, they put together two uninspiring performances, including a franchise worse 47-point loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
As their last game of the season began, however, the Magic looked refreshed and ready to turn the page after a couple of poor performances. Behind red hot shooting, they jumped all over the Detroit Pistons early, leading by 21 after the first quarter. Their play ignited an Amway Center crowd that was announced as the largest (19,458) in the history of the building.
Prior to the game, coach Vogel talked about how he wanted to see his team respond, but ultimately wanted to turn things over to his young guys late. With the Pistons having clawed their way back to within a few possessions, even taking the lead at one point, two of the Magic’s main young guys, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton took over.
Gordon, who jumped out of the gates with 14 first quarter points, made a couple of big buckets to put the Magic back in front. Overall, the third-year high flyer finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds, finishing one off his career-high in points.
Payton, who has put up some big numbers in the final month of the season, showed poise running the offense, getting Gordon the ball in positions he could be successful in. Then, when it was his turn, he took the bull by the horns, knocking down a set of big jumpers to seal the game for the Magic. Payton finished the night with 21 points and 13 assists, while only turning the ball over one time.
Relying on the young guys to finish it off shows the Magic’s want to continue ti build and grow for the future, and their understanding on how building winning habits, especially with those players, is key.
While the win, and getting that experience for those players is great, the game also came with somewhat of a hard hit.
The Magic victory, coupled with a loss by the Philadelphia 76ers, dropped the Magic from having, potentially, the fourth best lottery odds, to the fifth. With that comes the loss of some nearly 20 combinations that could give the Magic the top pick in this June’s draft.
With the struggles of the team top-to-bottom this season, getting any talent they can is huge. Add in the fact that this draft is one that many consider to be rich in talent and the win may seem like a loss to some.
Having played the lottery, and lost, multiple times already, the Magic know how easy it can be to fall down, and lose positions, which has ultimately cost them the chance at drafting the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, to name a few. Every ping pong ball matters. Every chance at getting a, potentially, transcendent player, matters.
This season didn’t go as the Magic had hoped, or planned. Wednesday night wasn’t much different, with the balls bouncing out of their favor, despite getting the victory.
As a whole, the win, and performances from both Gordon and Payton are encouraging, especially after their performances in their previous two contests.
The win, however, could end up looming large over the Magic in the long run, something that they can’t afford to have at this point.