Playoff-clinching Orlando Magic post biggest win since Dwight Howard left town | Commentary

Playoff-clinching Orlando Magic post biggest win since Dwight Howard left town | Commentary

On second thought, this is the way it should have been.

This is the way it had to be.

This is the way it NEEDED to be.

As that great NBA analyst Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.”

After what the Orlando Magic have been through over the last dozen years, it was only fitting that clinching a playoff spot should come down to the final game of the regular season. It was only appropriate that their season would be determined by one nail-biting, nerve-wracking game against one of the best teams in the league.

And the Magic did it.

They actually did it.

They won the game.

They made the playoffs.

Can you believe it?

Can you conceive it?

Just when we thought they were morphing into those hapless, hopeless teams we’ve seen too many times in the past, the Magic — powered by young star forwards Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner — dismantled the Milwaukee Bucks en route to a playoff-clinching 113-88 victory in front of delirious sellout crowd of 18,846 at Kia Center Sunday.

Play the Magic theme song, please!

“Abracadabra, razzamatazz,
Slam dunk sesame,
Hocus pocus, alakazam,
Gonna set the spirit free.”

Make no mistake about, Magic fans and players definitely and defiantly let their spirit soar after this groundbreaking arena-shaking victory. Afterward, the Magic rightfully and raucously celebrated in the locker room, gave coach Jamahl Mosley a soul-cleansing Gatorade shower and then reflected on how far this team has come since Mosley took over three years ago. To go from 22 wins in Mosley’s first season to 47 this season, a Southeast Division championship and a fifth seed in the playoffs is damn impressive.

Asked about the team’s post-game celebration, Mosley got emotional when talking about the players, the fans and the franchise.

“This team and this fan base should [celebrate],” Mosley said. “The organization should — from ownership down to every person who put in the work for this group. They should celebrate and embrace this moment. I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta get locked in for [Cleveland in] the first round of the playoffs.’ Right now everybody needs to enjoy this moment because they deserve it.”

As you can tell, this wasn’t just any victory; this was the biggest victory the Magic have recorded since Dwight Howard left a dozen years ago. Yes, the Magic have made the playoffs twice (2019 and 2020) in the post-Dwight years, but those teams were considered mediocre at best and just making the postseason was considered their ceiling. This rising Magic team, filled with young stars and high hopes, has only just begun.

“The energy’s different now,” said Magic center Jonathan Isaac, who was on the Magic’s last playoff team in 2020.

That’s why the victory over the Bucks was so monumental because it kept the positive energy and mojo flowing throughout the franchise. In that respect, it’s not a stretch to think the Magic season was at stake on Sunday. Just think of the potential ramifications had they lost this game — and then lost two games in the NBA’s Play-In tournament and missed the playoffs altogether.

Such a dismal scenario would have ruined this breakout season and renewed the wearying “Same old Magic” battle cry of so many disgruntled fans. And who would have blamed them?

The Magic entered Sunday’s game having lost three in a row and four of their last five. And it’s not like they were losing to good teams or teams that were at the top of their game. The Magic lost to the sinking Charlotte Hornets a couple of days after Steve Clifford announced he was stepping down as the coach of the team. They lost to the Houston Rockets, who had lost five in a row prior to beating the Magic. They got blown out by this same Milwaukee team on Wednesday even though the Bucks were without two of their stars — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

But when they needed it most, the Magic played their best. Banchero made good on his preseason “playoffs-or-bust” declaration by scoring 26 points, pulling down 11 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists. How good is Banchero? At 21 years, 154 days old, he is the youngest player in NBA history to lead his team in scoring, rebounding and assists.

Meanwhile, Wagner — Banchero’s fellow Magic building block — scored 25 points and had three steals. Defensive dominator Jonathan Isaac, in only his second start of the season, scored 10 points, had 8 rebounds and swatted 3 shots.

“We were struggling and everything was hanging on this game,” Isaac said. “For us to respond in this way really speaks to who this team is, our maturity, our growth and our ability to put it together when it mattered most.”

Added Wagner: “Most of our guys haven’t been to the playoffs and were on those 20-win teams. We looked at this as a do-or-die game. It means a lot to everybody to get into the playoffs.”

It wasn’t easy, but it’s not supposed to be.

You see, this wasn’t just about a single game; it was about a long journey filled with struggles and pitfalls.

It was about the unwavering spirit of a team and its town.

It was about defying odds, surpassing expectations and rewriting the narrative of a bedraggled franchise.

And it all came down to this one surreal Sunday in the final game of the NBA regular season.

This is the way it should have been.

This is the way it had to be.

This is the way it NEEDED to be.

Teddy Roosevelt would have been proud.

Anything worth achieving is worth fighting for.

Email me at Hit me up on X (formerly Twitter) @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and