Orlando Magic’s demons come to play showing cracks in the foundation

The Chicago Bulls' Justin Holiday, left, and Lauri Markkanen, right, knock the ball away from the Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
The Chicago Bulls' Justin Holiday, left, and Lauri Markkanen, right, knock the ball away from the Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic’s dream start got a dose of reality in a humbling loss to the Chicago Bulls. The Magic’s flaws were exposed in a disappointing defeat.

38. 105. 24. Final. 83

Coach Frank Vogel remembers the penultimate game of last season — a 122-75 shellacking against the Chicago Bulls that was never close. It was a bow on a disappointing season even with the optimism that had colored the final 24 games, including the win on the final night of the regular season.

It was one final reminder of that team’s deficiencies. The way the team struggled offensively to create good shots, missed the few good shots they took and gave in defensively were emblematic of the problems the entire season.

That was then. And the Orlando Magic have come a long way since then, according to their coach. That was easy to see as they raced out to a 6-2 start and became the talk of the league. Orlando’s offense had fluidity and movement. They pushed off misses and dug down deep defensively.

Everyone asking whether this team was for real saw some cracks in the foundation but a generally better team. One game is not going to change that.

At long last though, those cracks became obvious. And for one game, at least, the building began to crumble.

The Magic team everyone expected from the beginning of the year finally showed up. And Orlando got a glimpse of just what happens when they do not stay committed to their offensive and defensive schemes in a 105-83 loss to the Bulls at Amway Center on Friday.

"“Winning is not easy in this league,” Vogel said. “Every night you got someone who is hungry regardless of their record or their pedigree. You’ve got to play well to get a W.”"

The Magic scored a season-low 83 points, shooting a woeful 40.7 percent and 10 for 35 from beyond the arc. The team posted an 85.4 offensive rating. That is a far cry from the team’s season averages of a 107.3 offensive rating, 48.0 percent shooting and 42.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

The Magic had a bad offensive night for sure.

But a lot of it came in a way that looked similar to last year’s poor offense. A haunting glimpse of the team the Magic hoped they had left far behind.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Orlando struggled despite some good ball movement early in the game, trailing 8-0 early on. But the Magic were doing the right things, they just needed to reel things back. And Orlando largely did, retaking the lead by halftime despite the poor offense.

But the Magic were falling back into bad habits. They were struggling to keep the ball moving or get into the paint. Perhaps partly because of the team’s lack of point guard depth with both D.J. Augustin and Elfrid Payton out, Orlando could never find their rhythm.

That is when they began to press too much. And the deficit only grew.

"“I thought we didn’t play with the same energy,” Nikola Vucevic said. “I wouldn’t say we didn’t move the ball, but we just didn’t move it fast enough. A lot of times we overdribbled before we made a play. Our offense was stagnant. We didn’t get anything going. We really got cold and didn’t get any good looks. We took a lot of shots at the end of the shot clock. It’s hard to win games like that.”"

It was clear Orlando was struggling to find itself. The poor shooting — particularly in the third quarter — only seemed to worsen as the game went on.

The third quarter, usually a strong point for the Magic, became decisive. Chicago outscored Orlando 29-15 in the period. The Magic shot 5 for 19 from the floor and 3 for 11 from beyond the arc. Things only seemed to get worse and worse in the quarter.

Where the Magic are usually the ones attacking downhill and getting to the basket to put stress on the defense, it was the Bulls doing so here. And every time Orlando tried to attack, they got pushed away from their teammates.

This put Orlando in a tough position.

"“I think we just didn’t feel it,” Jonathan Isaac said. “Our normal energy, our normal ball movement that we had. Tonight it seemed like we were a little tired and we can’t afford to be.“We were so accustomed to shots just raining threes at the start of the season. We had a game where our shot is really not falling, we have to keep that up on the other end. I think we let that go.”"

And with the team unable to generate good shots it put their defense in a bind. And with their defense struggling to get stops, Orlando could not get out in transition. The Magic had just 11 fast-break points on 5-for-10 shooting in transition.

Orlando still lacks that go-to star to generate offense and free up the offense. Especially without its two best point guards to lead and direct the offense. Orlando struggled to get into its sets and it was clear Jonathon Simmons was struggling to set himself up at times. Especially when the Bulls defense settled in.

But the key to the Magic’s hot start has always been their shooting.

The Magic have come to expect their shots to fall. It has almost become a given in the first eight games of the season. But the few times they have struggled to shoot, they have had mixed results.

The warts and the scars on this team come out. Their lack of a go-to scorer becomes apparent as each player — whether it is Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier or whoever — takes his turn trying to push their way into the paint with ill-advised drives. When the Magic’s ball movement stops, the team can look as ugly as they did last season.

It is not something selfish, as Nikola Vucevic said. It is the team trying to snap itself back to attention. The Magic still have to figure out how to trust each other in these difficult moments and create for each other.

Orlando is still figuring out who it is when this key component does not work. Orlando is still trying to make its defense a backstop of sorts. The Magic were disconnected defensively. But it is tough to continue to play defense at a high level when the shots are not falling.

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The Magic simply did not execute throughout the game. It was amazing how one piece started to tear the whole house down.

It was a reminder of how vulnerable and fragile this team remains.

"“We’re a team that has a lot of depth,” Arron Afflalo said. “When we play well, we play together and we are capable of beating any team in the league. We are just as vulnerable to a team that we quote-unquote should beat. It’s just a matter of execution and effort.”"

This was one of those nights for the Magic. It was a night where Orlando had to reach in for some mental toughness and find a way. The Magic had done that in previous outings. Just not Friday. Orlando could not reel itself back in.

The true test for the elite teams, as Arron Afflalo said, is to respond to defeats. The loss exposed some of the team’s flaws — its penchant for reverting to one-on-one basketball, how dependent the team is on making 3-pointers and how the defense can slip when the shots are not falling.

Next: Grades: Chicago Bulls 105, Orlando Magic 83

Orlando will have its chance to do that and put some of their demons from Friday to rest.