Winning in the NBA is a process, not an event, and the latest witnesses to that fact are the Orlando Magic, who, in spite of some spirited and quality play are sitting on just one win against four losses in the standings. Their record is no indication of their play.
Their first game was against the Washington Wizards, who are presently 3-1 and who made it to the second round of the playoffs last year. John Wall and Bradley Beal, one of the league’s best backcourts, lead them.
Orlando either led or was tied with the Wizards for almost 21.5 minutes, and held the lead late in the game. But their last points came when Tobias Harris put them up 87-82 with 2:00 left to play. Going scoreless the last two minutes is usually fatal in a tight game.
John Wall put the Wizards up 88-87 with 13 seconds left, and Harris missed the shot on the timeout, the Magic got the rebound, but Nikola Vucevic also missed the 19-foot jumper that followed.
Orlando’s second outing came against the Oklahoma City Thunder, owners of two of the five best players in the world: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
It was one of the most spectacular games of the season. Orlando led by as many as 18 points and for 46:32 of the double-overtime thriller, but Oklahoma City still snuck out with the win. The Thunder managed to put together an impressive 42-24 fourth quarter to come back and tie things up. Westbrook hit a 35-foot three-pointer with one second left to send the game into its first overtime.
And now it was the Thunder’s turn to lead and Orlando’s chance to stage a comeback. The first OT ended with Victor Oladipo knocking down a three-point shot to tie things up at 126 and send the contest into its next extra frame. The Thunder built a slight lead, until with 7.0 seconds left, Harris knocked down a pair of free throws to cut it down to two. Westbrook split the freebies, and the lead was three.
Evan Fournier and Oladipo both had a chance at a game-tying three. Durant blocked both of their shots, and the Thunder won.
The Magic’s third game came against the Chicago Bulls, and this one was in Chicago’s control for most of the game. But Orlando fought back and cut the lead to three with 15 seconds left. Butler made a pair at the stripe. Then Oladipo connected with Fournier for a four-foot shot that cut it back to three. The Magic were forced to foul Derrick “One Eye” Rose, who made both his free throws and the game was more or less over.
The Magic’s next foe was the New Orleans Pelicans, and it was the only game that wasn’t much of a contest. The Pelicans were in the Western Conference playoffs last year and have arguably one of, if not the best player in the world. The Magic won by nine, led by all but two minutes of the game, and the margin never got closer than seven points in the last quarter.
Finally, Orlando went to Houston where they played another overtime game. The Houston Rockets are another contending team who went to the Western Conference Finals last season. Fournier hit a pair of freebies with one second on the clock to send it to the extra frame. The Magic struggled in overtime, though, scoring only four points, and the Rockets pulled away to win, 119-114.
All four of Orlando’s losses have two things in common:
- They were all against teams that were in the playoffs last year and/or are contenders this year. Their lone win was also against a playoff-caliber team.
- In each of their losses, the Magic were within one score in the last 10 seconds of the contest.
It’s hard to say that it’s OK to feel good about a 1-4 record, but if anyone can, it’s the Magic. Winning in the league is a process, but it’s a team at the end of the process. The start of it is learning to play in the NBA, and the Magic have shown they can stick with the Association’s best. The next step in that process is learning how to sink those shots and turn those “Ls” into “Ws,” but they’re at the point where they can take that step. Their play bears that out.