Orlando Magic drop 2 straight at a crucial time of the season

ORLANDO, FL – The Orlando Magic (37-28) are in the thick of the playoff hunt for the 2023-24 season, sitting in the 5th spot of the Eastern Conference standings as of this writing.

Orlando has dropped two key losses in a row, causing more tension among Magic fans in this already tight end-of-season race.

Although the Magic won 13 of their last 18 games, all five losses in that stretch came against teams in the NBA playoff picture: Miami, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, New York, and Indiana.

In total, half of Orlando’s past 18 games came against opponents inside the top 10 of each conference, and Jamahl Mosley’s squad went 4-5 against those teams.

Orlando, Florida, USA, March 10, 2024, Indiana Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson #22 makes a basket in the second half at the Kia Center. (Photo Credit: Marty Jean-Louis)

Their last two losses to the Knicks (37-27) on Friday and the Pacers (36-29) on Sunday marked the first time the Magic (37-28) dropped two in a row since Jan. 22-26.

Missing two key members of their backcourt against the Pacers when they returned to the Kia Center after a three-game trip, the Magic fell at home Sunday in a fast-paced and physical contest.

Orlando guards Jalen Suggs (right thigh contusion) and Markelle Fultz (left knee strain) both missed a critical matchup vs. Indiana, who sat two games back of Jamahl Mosley’s squad entering the game between the No. 5 and No. 8 teams in the East standings.

The Pacers (36-29), who trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half, completely flipped the script on the Magic (37-28) in the third quarter by outscoring them 39-21 in the frame.

Orlando, led by Paolo Banchero’s 19 points, was able to cut into the deficit early in the fourth but couldn’t complete the comeback late in the 111-97 loss, marking just their ninth at home this year.

Led by Tyrese Haliburton (20 points) and Pascal Siakam (20), six different Pacers finished in double figures as Indiana pushed the tempo and scored 27 fast break points compared to Orlando’s zero.

It was only the seventh game Suggs has missed this season but marked the second in a row. He missed Friday’s loss at New York after suffering the leg injury late in the game Wednesday at Washington.

Orlando is scheduled to play the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday at the Kia Center, which is one of the Magic’s next four opponents with records under .500, giving them a chance to stay ahead.

Orlando has not performed as well against teams with winning records, going 15-22, but has handled the lesser teams easily, with a record of 22-6.

Orlando, Florida, USA, March 10, 2024, Indiana Orlando Magic guard Joe Ingles #7 runs forwrad during the first half at the Kia Center. (Photo Credit: Marty Jean-Louis)

It means that these teams are catching on to how the Magic are playing. With their strong interior attack, Orlando has managed to generate plenty of wins. But when ball handlers are attacked at the line, and the inside passing lanes are clogged, and they are outshot from the outside, they struggle to keep up with their opponents’ scoring.

Leaning on the experience of veteran forward Joe Ingles will be key. The 36-year-old has played in 50 career playoff games, by far the most in the Magic locker room.

Against the Knicks and the Pacers, the Magic struggled to adjust in-game, even getting outscored 64-47 in the second half against Indiana.

“Adjusting in-game is hard, but it’s something we’re going to have to learn how to do,” Magic guard Cole Anthony said Sunday. “It’s something that we’ve got to recognize sooner and try to remedy… Try to get that ball moving.”

By increasing their focus on their coach and not other things that are out of their control, they can increase their chances, one play at a time.

With the clogged Eastern Conference so tight, just two games separate the fourth and eighth seeds in the conference. Every play counts.

Added Anthony: “We’ve got good dudes, and we’re going to figure this out. We’re going to figure this out.”

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