The Orlando Magic have benefited from something that has been rare for them in recent years: continuity in their starting lineup.
Monday’s 126-125 road loss against the Atlanta Hawks marked the 10th straight game in which the five-man unit of Markelle Fultz, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Bol Bol and Moe Wagner made the starting lineup.
Until Monday, the Magic hadn’t had the same starting group for 10 straight games from Jan. 23-March 2, when Franz Wagner, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. started 17 straight games.
Continuity has extended outside of the initial unit. The Magic have consistently used the same bench unit of Admiral Schofield, Kevon Harris, Terrence Ross, Anthony and Bamba in recent games, with Orlando entering Monday with a season-best six-game winning streak.
“He’s very valuable,” coach Jamahl Mosley said before the game. “We talk about continuity. The guy can play together, read and react to each other, not just offensively but defensively, being able to communicate if we’re in coverage and switching schemes, but they can communicate well with each other.”
Unfortunately for the Magic, the Hawks challenged them in the areas where they’ve shown the most improvement in recent weeks.
Led by Trae Young (37 points on 11-of-22 shooting to go with 13 assists), Atlanta dominated the Magic in the paint, scoring 62 points on 31-of-49 shooting at State Farm Arena.
“You’ve got to take your hat off to the Hawks,” Mosley said. “Trae is a tough guard. He causes so many different situations that you are put in. You have to give them a lot of credit for that. I’m still proud of our guys for how we fought. We gave ourselves a chance to win the game at the end.”
The Hawks welcomed John Collins (12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) and Dejounte Murray (17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) to the lineup after both missed several games with a sprained left ankle. .
Atlanta scored at least 34 points in the first three quarters, taking a 104-94 lead into the quarter and led 124-112 with 3:05 remaining.
“They’re a very good offensive team,” said Moe Wagner, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. “They disperse you. They have a very good point guard who makes good decisions. [and] Find your boys. They run these high pick and rolls that are hard for any team to defend against. You have to be consistent with the coverage and we start the game [inconsistently]. You can’t do that against a good offensive team.”
Then the Magic increased their defensive intensity.
They got six straight defensive stops in the next three minutes, helping them put together an 11-0 run to cut the Hawks’ lead to 124-123 with 28.8 seconds remaining.
Harris forced Young to miss a driving floater with 9.9 seconds remaining and Fultz called a timeout after grabbing the defensive backboard.
“Defensively, just look for the basketball,” Mosley said of Harris. “He Protected Trae a few times. He is capable of change. When we started using a little more traps to speed them up a bit, he did a great job getting some loose basketballs out.”
After the timeout, Fultz (a team-high 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting to complete with 9 assists and 6 rebounds) drove from the backcourt to the rim to convert a go-ahead reverse layup to give the Magic a lead. . 125-124 with 3.8 seconds remaining.
Banchero fouled Murray on his jumper with 1.3 seconds remaining, and Murray made both free throws to give the Hawks a 126-125 lead.
After the Magic timeout, Banchero missed his 3-point attempt in time, giving the Hawks (16-15) the win and ending Orlando’s streak.
“He had a clean look,” Mosley said of the last play. They flew towards him [at the last] second. It was only a little late, but at first she received the open stare.
After the final buzzer sounded, Fultz walked up to Banchero (18 points on 7-of-14 shooting to go with 7 assists and 4 rebounds) and high-fived him as they walked the court together.
“I just told her to keep her head [up]Fultz said. “I know you’re probably frustrated by the foul, that shot, and multiple plays throughout the game. It is a long season. He is a rookie and he is playing extremely well. He is extremely hard on himself.
I know what it felt like when maybe the game was on you and there’s something you could have [done] to help, but it’s not just those plays that led to us losing the game. There are multiple plays that led to that. He still did an amazing job of keeping his composure and playing hard. My thing for him is to keep his head up and prepare for the next one. Don’t beat yourself up too much.”
Franz Wagner scored 19 points (6 of 18) and 7 rebounds. Terrence Ross (14 points) and Mo Bamba (11) combined for 25 points off the bench.
Monday marked the fourth and final time the Magic and Hawks met this season, with three of those games in the last three weeks.
“It’s hard to lose a game like that,” Fultz said. “We are still fine. Everyone tells each other to keep our heads up. We did a great job fighting back [and] staying with it. I just have to prepare for the next one. We wanted this one tonight, but it was a bit unlucky.”
The Hawks won the season series 3-1, picking up victories over Orlando on Oct. 21 in Atlanta, Nov. 30 in Orlando, and on Monday. The Magic beat the Hawks last Wednesday in Orlando.
The Magic (11-21) will conclude their road trip with a matchup against the Rockets on Wednesday in Houston.
“No one is happy with that,” Mosley said. “These guys understand how much they fought and fought to get back in the game. We gave ourselves a chance down the stretch to win the game. They are disappointed, but they also understand that we have to move on to the next one. It is the 24 hour rule. It hurts, it burns, but now we have to go back and get ready for Houston.”
This article first appeared on. Email Khobi Price at or follow him on Twitter at .