The Orlando Magic followed up their worst stretch of the season with their best.
Their 111-99 win over the Toronto Raptors at Amway Center gave them their third consecutive victory, a season-best win streak and the first time the Magic have won three consecutive games since Feb. 17-21, 2021.
The Magic (8-20) lost nine consecutive games before beating the Los Angeles Clippers 116-111 in overtime Wednesday and picking up wins over the Raptors Friday and Sunday.
“You put three games in a row of it — we’re heading in the right direction,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “We’re asking our guys to defend at a high level, which they did. Asking them to share the basketball and move the basketball, which they did. They’re trusting each other and communicating with each other. Staying poised down the stretch, which they’ve done. We’re moving in the right direction and we’ve got to continue to that.”
The defense has stepped up.
Their defensive rating — points allowed per 100 possessions — of 107.3 over their last four games (3-1) during the homestand is the league’s fifth-best mark during this stretch, significantly better than the 119.1 defensive rating (27th) they had during the slide.
They’re doing better with protecting the rim despite being without starting big man Wendell Carter Jr., who’s missed 13 of the last 14 games because of strained right foot plantar fascia.
The Magic have switched less and played more traditional defensive pick-and-roll coverages during Carter’s absence. The results have turned around for the better after not being good at first.
They’re allowing 21.5 shots inside the restricted area (8th) and 13.3 shots inside the non-restricted area paint (8th) over the last four games during the homestand, which will wrap up the five-game homestand vs. Atlanta on Wednesday.
Opponents aren’t knocking down their floaters and midrange shots like they were during the slide.
“Making sure we protect the paint every time — we’ve done a really good job of that these last couple of games,” said Franz Wagner. “We’re figuring stuff out, especially the last couple of games. People are continuing to adjust to how we play and throw different stuff at us. We’re going to keep working.”
Greater trust has been shown.
“We like to apply ball pressure, we call it heat,” Mo Bamba said. “It’s the NBA. Guys are good, guys are really talented. You’re going to get blown by. We try to keep it no-middle, but it happens. Just knowing my teammate, knowing [Bol] Bol’s going to do his job and step over, get that block or get that charge or even step up and make them pass the ball, it’s a small example of do your job and others will fill in behind you.”
The Magic have also shown more poise during tight stretches, evident by their plus-15.8 net ratings in clutch situations — when the scoring margin is within 5 points with five or fewer minutes remaining in a game.
“It shows we’ve listened these last couple of days,” Franz Wagner said. “And we’re trying to do what the coaches are saying. Obviously, it’s not going to be perfect every time but we’re doing our best. We’ve still got so many things to improve. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
The Magic have made it through this stretch without multiple key players, including five players who are considered their best defenders.
In addition to Carter, Gary Harris (strained right hamstring), Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery), Chuma Okeke (left knee soreness) and Jalen Suggs (right ankle soreness) sat Sunday.
Harris has sat six straight games after missing the first 15 following offseason left knee surgery. Okeke has missed 10 games while Suggs has been sidelined half the season, including the last nine games.
“We’re still waiting on JI, he’s looking good every day,” Bamba said. “Chuma’s getting back on the court. Gary’s getting back on the court. Wendell’s getting close. When we get our whole group back, we’ll look scary. It’s tough to really assess where we are as a team because, quite frankly, we haven’t had our whole team. When we get guys back and build that camaraderie, that chemistry with each other, it only gets better.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.