The Orlando Magic have played some killer offense the last nine games. That offense continued with a 3-point barrage that finally delivered a win.
Mario Hezonja though did some quick thinking of his own. With Larry Nance Jr. switched onto him, he quickly cut into the space behind Nance as the Los Angeles Lakers forward relaxed. Hezonja caught the ball and drove into the lane. But he did not rush a shot. He waited as the defense collapsed.
Then he whipped the ball to Evan Fournier in the corner for a 3. Easy shot. Easy make.
Just like the Magic did nine times in 13 3-point attempts in the third quarter. Orlando recorded nine assists on 14 made field goals in the third quarter as the Magic dropped 43 points to blow the game open. Those nine 3-pointers in the third quarter set a new franchise record.
Orlando took a 20-point lead into the fourth quarter and cruised to a 124-105 victory.
"“Third quarter was killer for us on our losing streak,” Hezonja said. “Even coach had an emphasis on that in the meeting. Go hard, go at them the beginning of the third quarter. The entire game our energy felt like they were the ones playing the back to back. That just brings everyone’s energy to do more. Everything feels right. That’s why we were making everything.”"
Third quarters have been killer for the Magic this year. Orlando has struggled to come out of the locker room and maintain their intensity. The team has struggled to maintain intensity from game to game.
But after playing a really good game in a loss Tuesday to the Houston Rockets, the team was focused in a different way Wednesday. The Magic were ready to go and ready to make good on a strong run of play the last eight games.
The Magic’s offensive prowess was on full display. A display that has become increasingly more commonplace in recent games.
In Orlando’s last nine games, the team has a 110.6 offensive rating, the sixth-highest mark in the league in that time period. The Magic are actually sporting a positive net rating following Wednesday’s win, which featured one of the team’s best defensive performances in some time.
The team is playing much better by every measure. There is no getting around. The only thing missing is the results.
Right now, the team’s offense is spearheading that improvement.
Coach Frank Vogel said before Wednesday’s game, the offensive improvement is a product of the team’s improved passing and offensive trust. The only thing that has been missing is seeing the rewards.
"“You can talk about being positive with how well we’re doing and things individually and habits that we’re building,” Vogel said. “But you need results to reinforce what we’re doing. Our guys are bringing it. They are playing the right way. I’m happy for them that they get the W.”"
In Tuesday’s loss to the Rockets, the Magic’s offense was what kept them in the game, forcing James Harden to put in his record-breaking performance. The Magic made 15 of 31 3-pointers to stay in the game. Their 115.8 offensive rating and 61.9 percent assist rate are in line with the kind of offense Vogel has envisioned.
That is an offense where the team moves the ball and plays together. It is an offense that relies heavily on moving the ball to find the open man, using motion and drives against an unsettled defense to create offensive opportunities.
The 3-pointer was an added bonus in Wednesday’s game. Vogel said the team noticed on tape how the Lakers collapse into the paint to defend. They were specifically looking for “second-side 3s.” That comes from attacking the lane, waiting for that collapse and dishing back out to the weak side for an open 3-pointer.
Orlando scored 127 points and had a 121.2 offensive rating. The Magic had a 63.6 percent assist rate to boot, shooting a scorching 65.4 percent effective field goal percentage.
Time and again the Magic found the open man for three. Orlando was open. That, of course, makes it easier to shoot a good percentage.
"“I think people are settling into their roles a little bit,” said Shelvin Mack, who led the team with seven assists. “They are moving without the ball, not a lot of dribbling and trusting each other. That is a big thing. They know when they give the ball up, they will get it back. It’s translating to great output on the offensive end."
They finally made good on their strong offensive performance. Something that has become more and more commonplace in the last two weeks.
The Magic are no longer worried about their effort nightly. Vogel said the team has been playing “extremely hard” for the last few games. They just have not been able to get over the hump to get wins. Statistically, they perhaps deserve better results than what they have gotten.
Orlando has had its moments for a game or two in this stretch. This is a team that has notched wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics in recent weeks. The team is competing at a high level.
The offense is the key ingredient why. It is not even that the Magic are shooting well — although the team has the second-best effective field goal percentage in that stretch of games.
Orlando is making smart plays and smart passes to set itself up on the offensive end. All the pieces came together to bury the Lakers. There was no recovering from that barrage. Not with the defense finally coming together to hold them off.
"“He was saying it sucks that we were losing games while playing good and even sometimes better than our opponents that beat us,” Hezonja said. “We just stayed the course. We just executed the plays and listen to what we’ve got to do. Everyone did their jobs. We kept moving the ball and executing the plays. We’re staying in every game and now we’ve finally won.”"
Orlando finally righted the ship enough to get a win. Now comes the challenge of continuing that strong play to build a win streak. That part has continued to elude Orlando.
But unlike previous weeks, the Magic appear to have turned something of a corner. Their offense has become a difficult one for defenses to handle. And that is giving them a chance to win again.