What worked for Magic in February and what comes next | Analysis

Magic coach Jamahl Mosley has often pointed to his team’s overall growth throughout his third season at the helm that’s led to this year’s success.

On an individual level, Orlando All-Star forward Paolo Banchero has become more efficient (shooting 36.2% from 3-point range vs. 29.8% a year ago) and a stronger playmaker in his sophomore campaign (averaging 5.2 assists which is up from 3.7).

On a group level, the Magic are 19-6 against teams below .500 (whom they’re supposed to beat) compared to 15-16 against teams with a losing record during Banchero’s rookie season.

There are multiple indicators that show just how far the Magic have come this year but perhaps none is more impressive than what the team accomplished Thursday against the Jazz.

Orlando’s 8-point victory over Utah at Kia Center marked the team’s 34th win of the season and capped February with a 9-3 record.

The Magic (34-26) matched their win total from a season ago — with 22 games remaining.

“A group that understands exactly what we’re capable of doing but never satisfied, wanting to continue to grow and get better,” Mosley said Thursday when asked post-game what the 34-win mark represent.

“It says a lot about this coaching staff who put in so much work with these guys and for themselves to be able to help these guys reach the highest level of success that they can.”

A lot changed for the Magic in February after a dreadful January that saw them go 6-10, at one point dropping seven contests in a nine-game stretch.

What worked for Orlando in February?

The Magic shot the ball much better.

During 16 games the month prior, Orlando shot 45.8% from the field (36.4% from 3), which ranked 24th league-wide. During 12 contests in February, the Magic’s field goal percentage jumped to 50.4% (39.5% from 3), a mark that was 6th best.

It helped getting back veteran guard Gary Harris, who was unavailable Jan. 5-31 due to a right calf strain that forced him to miss 16 games. During 22.7 minutes in 10 games played in February, Harris shot 48.5% from 3-point range.

Beede’s Breakdown: How Magic overcame mistakes to beat Jazz in Banchero’s return

The Magic also had more success near the rim.

During February, Orlando averaged the ninth-most points in the paint (52.8). In January, the Magic averaged the fifth-fewest points the paint (45.0).

What still needs work?

The Magic are far from perfect and they’re the first to admit that — even after Thursday’s win against the Jazz (27-33).

Orlando committed 15 turnovers for 25 points and missed 10 free throws against a team that sits outside the top 10 in the West (a non-Play-In squad).

“There’s a standard,” Mosley said. “We talk about [how] we got away with a win but understanding we have to continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard. As we continue to grow and get better — which this team is because they recognize that — we’ll continue to get better throughout that.”

Despite a strong showing in February, the Magic still averaged 14.7 turnovers, which was tied for fifth-most. Orlando’s 75.2% free-throw percentage was the third-worst in the NBA.

What comes next in March?

Home games. And lots of them.

Ten of the Magic’s 14 games in March will be played inside Kia Center, where the team is 20-7 this season. (Orlando’s overall 20-8 home record includes a November “home” loss to Atlanta at Mexico City.)

The month starts Sunday (Bally Sports Florida, 6) against the Pistons (9-49), who sit second-to-last in the East.

While every game matters in a postseason race as clustered as the East, there are two crucial matchups against conference opponents this month: at New York on March 8 and vs. Indiana two days later.

Entering Friday’s games, the Magic sat sixth in the East, above the mark for the Play-In Tournament and in front of the seventh-seeded Pacers (34-26). Orlando is still one game back of the fourth-seeded Knicks (35-25).

If the Magic can rise to fourth in the East, it would mean home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series.

Continuing to do more of what worked in February, while improving upon what didn’t, will be key.

“We’ve gone through a lot together,” Magic guard Jalen Suggs said. “We’ve had to win games when we’re not making shots. We’ve had to win games relying on defense, and win games where we can’t get a stop but we do have shots falling from the outside.

“We’re able to win and adapt to however the game is going, and [Thursday] was another example of that.”

Email Jason Beede at or follow him on X, known as Twitter, at @therealBeede.