PHOENIX — The Orlando Magic didn't alter their playing style during their just-finished West Coast road trip. They remain a rebuilding team that must give all-out effort and share the ball to win.
But perhaps something profound occurred out West, anyway.
By winning three of five games, and defying the public's expectations, the Magic returned to Central Florida with heightened self-confidence and an increased sense of unity.
"We are a young team that is learning through experience, from the rookies to the coaches," power forward Glen Davis said.
" 'Together.' It's what we say every day in the huddle. We're starting to live it every single day now, and being on the road brings it together even more, because now you're in a building with 20,000 other people, and they're against you. So that mentality has to spread, not only away, but at home."
The Magic concluded their nine-day trip Sunday night with a 98-90 victory over the Phoenix Suns. The West Coast visit started with an emotional win over Dwight Howard's Los Angeles Lakers and continued the next night with a win over the Golden State Warriors.
Players offered telling reactions after the win over Phoenix.
Although they acknowledged that it was important to finish the trip with a winning record — J.J. Redick called it "a big step forward" — many of them expressed regret that they didn't beat the Utah Jazz and the Sacramento Kings also.
The losses in Salt Lake City and Sacramento were close, winnable games, and Orlando players felt they should have won them.
That might be the best indicator of the Magic's overall attitude these days.
"I think we made a little bit of a switch in that Utah game," Redick said.
"That was a game that typically we had been blown out in, where we get down 13 points in the second half and we had folded. There were two games against Brooklyn where we had kind of folded and a couple of other games — San Antonio another example — where we had folded.
"So that was a step forward. Frankly, we were in a position to win that game [over Utah]. We were in a position to win against Sacramento."
The Magic recovered from early game struggles.
They fell behind during Sunday's first quarter by as many as nine points and trailed at the end of the first period for the 16th time in 20 games this season.
But they fought back.
"That's been growth for us," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "I really do feel like each game that we stepped out on the floor during this trip we felt like we were going to win."
Even Vaughn would say that, with such a young team, the team will encounter difficulties.
Young players experience plenty of valleys during the course of an 82-game season. On Sunday, however, power forward Andrew Nicholson, combo guard E'Twaun Moore and center Nik Vucevic ended the trip on positive notes.
Additional tests loom ahead. On Wednesday, the Magic will host the Atlanta Hawks, a team that creates matchup problems for the Magic. When the teams played in Atlanta on Nov. 19, the Hawks clobbered the Magic 81-72 in a game that was much more lopsided than the final score indicated.
Now, though, the Magic have more confidence than they had just a few weeks ago.
"We can take a lot of positives out of this whole road trip," point guard Jameer Nelson said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win in every game, and we won three out of the five. The two we lost, we had our opportunities to win."