Orlando Magic Playbook: How the Toronto Raptors have eliminated Nikola Vucevic

Nikoila Vucevic's struggles in the playoffs perhaps previewed a murky future. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nikoila Vucevic's struggles in the playoffs perhaps previewed a murky future. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
TORONTO, ON – APRIL 13: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic dribbles the ball as Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors defends during Game One of the first round of the 2019 NBA playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on April 13, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are struggling to get their offense going and it starts with the struggles of All-Star center Nikola Vucevic.

When the Orlando Magic made the playoffs, there was a sigh of some relief and a feeling of immense accomplishment and achievement.

The team had gone through six years of irrelevancy and frustration to make the postseason. For players who had been with this team for so long, it was a greater achievement for them. They proved they could win as a group and reach this tangible goal.

Even Magic fans had written this group off as topping off at about a 35-win team incapable of showing the poise and defensive intensity needed to take the next step.

Nikola Vucevic was literally the center of all this. The one guy who was a presence for each of these teams and seemed to have limitations on both ends that would keep the Magic from taking their next steps.

This felt like his and the team’s last chance. They did not disappoint, especially Nikola Vucevic.

Vucevic became a NBA All-Star and the team’s most consistent player. Against all early season eye rolling, coach Steve Clifford put his trust in Vucevic to anchor the offense and was rewarded for it.

It was a career year for Vucevic not as much for his statistics — 20.8 points per game, 12.4 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game and 4.7 defensive win shares — but also for the stability and consistency he provided. The Magic could always rely on him for consistent offense and to get them unstuck, whether through his passing or his scoring.

Vucevic may not have finished games — he was notoriously poor in clutch situations — but he got the Magic to the finish line. He gave them a chance to win on both ends of the floor with his consistent play and effort.

That is what should have the Orlando Magic most concerned as they enter Game 3 against the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors’ defense has effectively taken Vucevic out of the game completely.

Vucevic is averaging 8.5 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and 3.0 assists per game while shooting a paltry 28.6 percent from the floor. This is hardly the consistent player that anchored the Magic into the postseason.

Worse still, he has 2.5 turnovers per game and is taking only 10.5 field goal attempts per game. Maybe that is good with how poorly he is shooting. But the Magic have a tough time generating offense if they are not going through Vucevic. Vucevic, quite simply, is the only player who can demand attention and draw double teams.

Clifford said after Game 1 he needed to do a better job finding ways to get Vucevic the ball in areas he can score and get him more involved. The Magic failed in that mission on both counts. Vucevic was 3 for 7 from the floor for six points. He was simply not a factor at all thanks to the Toronto defense that swarmed everyone on the team.

The Magic’s poor performance in Game 2 might feel like an outlier. But taking that with Vucevic’s inability to get going in Game 1 suggests Toronto is doing specific things to knock him off his game.

If the Magic want to win this series, they will need Vucevic to provide a base of calm and easy scoring to get there. They will have to counteract how the Raptors have played him so far.