A Look at the Past and Flashes of the Future
The building of a successful franchise foundation in the NBA features no shortcuts.
Instead, it’s laid out piece by piece. It’s developed through countless hours of offseason workouts, hundreds of practices, diligent film sessions, thorough execution game after game, and a burning desire to never stop improving.
The Orlando Magic are now in the middle of that development process. Under the tutelage of Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford, Orlando has started to forge its identity as a passionate, unselfish squad with winning as its sole goal.
“Obviously, our fanbase is desperate for wins and we feel the weight of that,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman explained.
“We talk about it all the time – we owe it to our fans to bring them a winner – these jobs are really like civil servant jobs and the purpose for us is to win and bring the city together.”
In order to reach that destination, there’s a clear path that the Magic must follow.
“I think this is a team that can keep getting better and better if we have the right approach" said Clifford. “I like the way that we work, and I think we have guys who badly want to win.”
The Magic’s determination on-court has already been evident. They’ve recorded victories in thrilling fashion against some of the league’s toughest opponents. Triumphs – perhaps – that they would not have been able to secure in years past.
“I think compared to some of the past years, we’ve taken a big step forward,” said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who’s spent the last seven seasons with the club. “We’ve played some good teams and had some really big wins. I really see us taking some big steps forward. Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to do, but we’re headed in a good direction.”
The 30th Anniversary Season started with an exciting win over the Sunshine State Rivals, Miami Heat.
Three of those monumental victories have come in the closing moments of tight games at Amway Center.
Nov. 5 2018
Orlando put its gritty effort on display. Down five in the final 41.9 seconds, the Magic rallied back as Evan Fournier battled through a tough shooting night to put forth a heroic effort. With 1.8 seconds remaining in a tied game, Fournier took an inbounds pass from Aaron Gordon, dribbled once to his left to create space from Cleveland forward Cedi Osman and drained a 24-foot jumper as time expired to give the Magic a 102-100 home victory over the Cavs.
Nov. 14 2018
Facing a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit, Orlando refused to quit in the face of nearly insurmountable odds. Pulling off the third-largest fourth-quarter comeback in the 30-year history of the franchise, the Magic went on a 21-0 run (the second longest of the NBA season at the time) and Terrence Ross drained a tie-breaking 3-pointer in the closing moments for a 111-106 victory in front of an electric crowd at Amway Center.
“We’re resilient and we keep fighting,” said Ross, aka ‘The Human Torch’. “We always want to make a push. You can’t be too high when you’re up or too low when you’re down, so you just have to keep playing no matter what.”
Dec. 30 2018
Entrenched in a back-and-forth battle with the Pistons, Fournier delivered in the clutch once again. With the game knotted at 107 and 2.5 seconds left on the clock, Gordon inbounded to Fournier, who blew past Detroit’s Stanley Johnson and connected on a buzzer-beating floater over the massive outstretched arms of Andre Drummond to lift the Magic to a 109-107 exhilarating triumph over the Pistons.
“I really embrace those moments and I’m glad that Coach (Clifford) drew up a play for me and the execution was great,” Fournier said.
“It’s something that I work on pretty much every day, to be honest,” he added.
Flashes of The Future
While game-winning shots and buzzer-beaters display the team’s growth in the closing moments of matchups, Clifford points to four other performances as some of the contests that best display the future direction of this franchise’s identity.
Oct. 22 2018
In this game, the Magic’s coach believes the team put forth one of its best demonstrations of competitive spirit to date. On the road, against one of the premier Eastern Conference squads, Orlando went blow for blow with Boston. Vucevic (24 points and 12 rebounds) and Fournier (14 points and career-high 10 assists) each had quality nights, but it was second-year forward Jonathan Isaac who delivered a breakout performance and came through down the stretch.
Isaac notched career highs in points (18), including a game-clinching jumper with 52.7 seconds left, and rebounds (12) as the Magic never trailed in a 93-90 victory in Boston.
“They had good stretches, but we kept our composure,” Fournier said. “The key thing for us is making sure that we execute offensively and defensively. That’s what good teams do, and they don’t panic. That’s a big reason why we won.”
Nov. 17-18 2018
Clifford looks at these contests as one of the team’s best examples of offensive energy. On back-to-back nights, Orlando moved the ball consistently and efficiently, dropping 31 dimes in its 130-117 win over the Lakers and then followed by dishing out a season-high 35 assists in its 131-117 victory over the Knicks.
“We get better and better each day because we get more comfortable with the offense and more comfortable with each other,” Gordon said.
Jan. 2 2019
In terms of complete performances, this could be Orlando’s best effort of the season. The Magic came out with exceptional purpose of play on both ends of the floor in a 112-84 throttling of the Bulls. Their precise offensive execution, taking advantage of mismatches and working the ball into the paint led to 31 assists, including a career-high nine from Gordon. Their intense defensive fight helped generate nine blocks, including three from rookie Mo Bamba.
“It’s just a matter of having that presence and being there (in the paint),” Bamba explained. “I’m not going to block every one of them, but I definitely can alter some.”
Jan. 12-13 2019
Coming off a strenuous six-game road trip and mired in a four-game losing stretch, Orlando flashed its resiliency. With back-to-back home games against NBA championship contenders Boston and Houston on back-to-back nights, the Magic overcame the insurmountable odds and earned two straight victories. A balanced offensive attack proved to be the key as four players scored in double figures in both of the Magic's triumphs.
“We played together” said Ross, who scored 42 points over the two-game span, including 17 in the fourth quarters. “We did a good job of staying together, playing for each other and making big plays down the stretch.”
Push for the playoffs
Sitting at 20-31 on Jan. 30, the Magic did everything in their power to make a strong push for the postseason. Over the team’s final 31 games Orlando put forth one of the most impressive stretches in the entire NBA.
Their 22-9 finish to end the season was the third-best winning percentage in the league and their 104.9 defensive rating was tops in the association over that span.
That path to the playoffs was filled with memorable moments and clutch performances, including these hard-fought contests:
Feb. 2 2019
Gordon drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:41 remaining as part of his 22-point night as the Magic overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors 103-96. It marked the Magic’s first win over the Warriors since 2012.
Mar. 26 2019
The Magic surpassed the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoff race behind a 24-point, 16-rebound effort from Vucevic. Isaac poured in 19 points as Orlando overcame a 14-point first-half deficit in a 104-99 triumph at American Airlines Arena. Even more impressive is that the win came on the second night of a back-to-back as Orlando throttled the Philadelphia 76ers an evening earlier at Amway Center.
Apr. 7 2019
The Magic put their grit and determination on display when they withstood a late Boston Celtics rally and got clutch plays down the stretch from franchise fixtures Fournier, Gordon, Ross and Vucevic on their way to a 116-109 victory that propelled Orlando into the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
“It was overwhelming, and really, it’s all about the way we did it,” said Fournier, whose heroic go-ahead dunk with 2:02 to play helped the Magic secure their sixth division title in franchise history. “When we were 20-31 (on the season), we still fought through it with a lot of adversity. And then to win the way we did, it was a game where we were up big, but they made huge plays. But we’re tough man, we’re tough. We really wanted it, we kept our composure and we made it.”
After the victory, Clifford delivered a memorable and emotional postgame speech to his squad.
“I want to say two things. First of all, from Day 1, whatever we were, 11 under (.500), but (we) kept working and kept fighting and we did it the right way. We’re getting better and better. The best can be yet to come. Secondly, listen to me, this is great and no matter what (happens in the playoffs), (we've) done a great job, but let’s want more. If we can come in (Boston) and play that kind of game – back against the wall, bad breaks and (make) play after play – if we use these next few days, we can beat anybody.”
Playoffs and Beyond
The Magic’s return to postseason action started off in memorable fashion. Augustin put on a stellar Game 1 show, going 9-for-13 from the floor and drained a game-winning 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left to stun the Toronto Raptors.
“I shot the ball with confidence, I kind of had it going most of the night and my teammates did a good job screening for me and rolling,” Augustin said. “It was a team effort because we went out there and fought hard and didn’t get down when they made their run. We just kept playing and kept fighting.”
While Orlando would go on to drop the final four games of the series, the playoff experience its young core gained and the culture it developed will be beneficial for years to come.
“We played all season with a bunch of young guys, but we were very organized and that comes from the culture that Coach (Clifford) installed and put in for us,” Vucevic explained. “As the season went on, we got into it and started playing the way that we wanted, and we had success. It was definitely change for the better, we had success and I feel like we brought back some hope for the City of Orlando. Magic fans can be proud of what we’ve achieved. I know it’s tough now, but when we look back at the season after a couple of weeks, I think they will be proud of this team that they supported.”
Over the final two and a half months of the season, the Magic were just one of two teams in the league – the Pistons being the other – who ranked top 11 in each of these defensive categories: Opponent second chance points (1st), opponent fast break points (2nd), opponent points off turnovers (2nd) and opponent points in the paint (11th).
“Obviously, towards the end of the season, we found a way to play, and we’re really good at it, and that’s going to help us for next year,” Fournier added. “And this experience, this playoff experience, is going to help us for next year.”
With quality coaching and an impressive basketball operations staff in place, the future is bright in Orlando.
“In just a short amount of time that we’ve been under new management and new coaching, it’s shown how different things have been from last year to this year,” Isaac explained. “So, hopefully we can all make another leap and do something big next year.”
After all, as their head coach explained on the night his team clinched a playoff berth, "let’s want more" and the “best is yet to come.”