Orlando Magic cannot buy a bucket as losing streak deepens

The Orlando Magic's Nikola Vucevic (9) drives past the New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis, left, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic's Nikola Vucevic (9) drives past the New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis, left, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic’s losing streak continues as the team put in a horrid offensive effort, continuing a terrible trend on that end with no solution in sight.

69. Final. 97. 38. 111

The Orlando Magic turned to a reliable play in the third quarter to get themselves an open look from a good 3-point shooter. The elevator screen from Bismack Biyombo was perfect, closing down before the defense could react to allow D.J. Augustin to pop open on the wing for three. D.J. Augustin is a reliable 3-point shooter at 43.4 percent.

It was a perfect play, executed perfectly. Except for the shot. It fell no good, one of two he missed on a night where everyone was missing.

The Magic have turned themselves into a more new-wave, fast-breaking team. They want to take 3-pointers. It was a key to powering their offense from one of the worst in the league last year to about a league average offense this year.

It is a powerful tool the Magic have learned to use, getting surprisingly strong shooting seasons from Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, along with a return to form for Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin.

Those percentages are meaningless now. The team’s hot start from beyond the arc has long fallen by the wayside. The team has returned to some type of normal. The crash has been hard. And made even harder thanks to the injuries.

The Magic know they have a small margin of error right now. And missing 3-pointers only makes that task harder.

Augustin was not the only one missing 3-pointers in Friday’s 111-97 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Orlando made just 4 of 20 3-pointers in the game making it tough for the team to keep pace with New Orleans. The Pelicans made just 10 of 30 but that was more than enough to overcome a Magic team that is just struggling to hit shots right now.

Orlando made only 42.4 percent of its shots for Friday’s game. The Magic made only 40.9 percent of their shots through three quarters.

The problem for the Magic quite simply is missing shots — opening up several chicken-egg problems that get to the heart of everything wrong with the team at the moment.

"“We’re not shooting the ball well from the perimeter,” coach Frank Vogel said.” We can shoot better. We got decent looks. The rhythm of the offense was pretty good for most of the night. We don’t have a lot of shooting in the lineup. We have to have good nights, they didn’t tonight.”"

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The four made 3-pointers in Friday’s game were the fewest the Magic had made in a game all season. Orlando’s offense has faced a similar fate ever since Evan Fournier went out.

In those seven games, the Magic have shot 42.7 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. The team has a 97.2 offensive rating in its last seven games, one of only two teams with a sub-100 offensive rating in the league in that time.

Orlando’s offensive downturn had already begun before Fournier’s injury. But the injury to Evan Fournier — along with Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross — has clearly put stress on the team’s offense in a major way.

Vogel said the poor shooting creates a compound effect. It makes the team force things even more. The team is struggling to make shots overall and the effects are felt everywhere.

"“It’s frustrating,” said Nikola Vucevic, who shot 7 for 20 and 0 for 3 from beyond the arc Friday. “Obviously, that’s not helping us. Tonight, our defense wasn’t there. If we were able to make some shots, that would help us. We have some guys who are shooters who are out. Hopefully, we have some guys who can get out of it soon.”"

Shooting is not the biggest problem facing the Magic. Just as the offense has tanked, so too has the defense. And everyone will be quick to point out that if the team can get stops, it means they are able to get out in transition and get easier baskets. Fast-break points are still the best way for this team to score both inside and outside the arc.

But no player has shown the struggles from this offense quite like Marreese Speights.

The Magic turned to Marreese Speights on Friday in the starting lineup with the Pelicans playing two bigs at the same time. Playing Mario Hezonja at the four — oddly, one of the few players who has seen a shooting renaissance of late — did not make much sense defensively.

Speights, though, is shooting just 2 of 18 from beyond the arc entering Friday’s game. He made just two of his six 3-point shots. Speights can be a flamethrower from beyond the arc and an important floor spacer. But, of late, he has struggled to make shots. And when he is struggling to make shots, it is hard to find much of his value.

With so many injuries to key shooters, the Magic needed Speights’ ability to get hot in a hurry and provide some much-needed scoring off the bench. Speights admitted it has been harder for himself to get into a rhythm because of his role. Vogel has cut his minutes significantly in December.

What the key is for this team is for the Magic to find other ways to generate offense even without shots falling. And that has been the toughest thing to find.

Speights said sometimes it is about mentally focusing on their shot. Everyone will go through slumps and they will find their shot again.

"“It’s definitely a struggle that we can’t get the ball to go in,” Speights said. “We’ve got a long season. It’s part of being in the NBA. You’re not going to make shots, but you have to do other things. And that’s playing harder and finding the hot man.”"

Orlando indeed will have to continue trying to find the hot man. It has been harder and harder to find of late. The Magic’s offensive rhythm has just been non-existent.

Improving the defense would certainly help. But the simplest solution comes down to making shots. That is something the Magic are not doing. Not consistently at least.

The poor shooting saps the energy away from the team and does not allow the team’s defense to get set.

Everyone seems confident things will turn around at some point. The slump will not last forever. And when the Magic start hitting shots again, everything else may follow and the team may burn off a few wins again like they did earlier in the season.

But for now, the simplest act in the game has proven to be the hardest for the Magic. Friday it was exceeding difficult.

Next: Grades: New Orleans Pelicans 111, Orlando Magic 97

Orlando is looking for offense. The Magic just need to make shots.