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 Raptors
TORONTO, CANADA – APRIL 16: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic goes up for a dunk against the Toronto Raptors during Game Two of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Getting Vooch going

This is undoubtedly some new territory for Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic.

They have not had many times this season where their best player and All-Star center has been taken out of the game. The Toronto Raptors have very clearly made it a priority to take Vucevic out of the game and make other players on the Magic beat them.

That burned them in Game 1 when D.J. Augustin went off and the Raptors quickly adjusted by changing the defensive assignment on him. They also started switching less in Game 2 and blitzing ball handlers more, relying on their length and defensive instincts to eliminate any open spaces.

The gamble is Orlando does not have enough offensive weapons to withstand this kind of pressure.

Orlando did take advantage of some of this. The team got to the line 18 times in the first half (making only nine). And there were several open 3-pointer opportunities that Orlando missed. But if Jonathan Isaac is shooting six 3-pointers in a game, the Raptors are likely OK with that. If he makes those, that is the gamble they are willing to take.

All of this is centered on Vucevic.

Clearly working the ball directly into him and trying to have him operate without some wrinkle is not going to work. Marc Gasol is playing him physically at every turn and the wing players are blitzing and trapping the ball handler to prevent any clean entry passes to him.

Orlando can try some extra screening actions and off-ball screening to get Vucevic cleaner looks — both as a post-up player and as a screener. Screening the screener is a tried and true method to create space in the pick and roll. And if the Raptors switch a smaller defender onto Vucevic, that can be a victory in itself and an advantage the Magic can look to exploit on the block.

To be sure, Vucevic has missed his share of open jumpers too. He is struggling to do even the things he does on an everyday basis. If he makes some of those open shots — and free throws when he gets them — things will look a lot better, even if he is struggling in the post.

But the reality might be the Magic have to use Vucevic as a decoy and use the pressure the Raptors are putting on him to get others going first. That could change Toronto’s schemes and make Vucevic more available.

Orlando absolutely has to figure this out though. Vucevic is a vital part of the team as a passer as much as a scorer. His threat is the thing the Raptors are most worried about. And right now they are winning that matchup by an overwhelming margin.

Next. Orlando Magic took their playoff lumps in Game 2. dark

The Magic will have no hope of winning this series if they do not get Vucevic going in some way.