Orlando Magic’s biggest aim is to increase physicality

The Orlando Magic are hoping to increase their physicality and re-establish their dominance on the boards. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic are hoping to increase their physicality and re-establish their dominance on the boards. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford has not been thrilled with his team’s physicality early this season. That will have to increase to maintain their defense

Coach Steve Clifford was curious about how his team would look entering their first game Wednesday. He was anxious to see where their progress was and how they would respond to the pressures of a game situation.

The team had done OK in the preseason, but it was just preseason. There was not much to go on.

One thing did concern him most. It was not the turnovers — those largely get cleaned up with familiarity, rhythm and practice. And it was not the team’s shooting — again, familiarity, rhythm and practice.

The thing that always concerned him throughout the preseason was whether the team could get back to the level of play that sustained it throughout the final 31 games last year.

More specifically, the team’s rebounding and physicality was a barometer for their success. It simply was not where he wanted it to be and where he knew the team needed it to be.

"“I feel good that we did it last year. We sure haven’t done it this year,” Clifford said before Wednesday’s 94-85 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. “We haven’t done it in practice much either. Last year, one of the reasons we played better was we developed a level of physicality that we didn’t have at the beginning of the year. We didn’t have it in the preseason and we better have it tonight.”"

That warning sounded ominous after the Orlando Magic were one of the best rebounding teams throughout the season. The jury might still be out after one game.

The Magic lost the rebounding battle 54-46 in Wednesday’s opener. The Cavaliers had 10 offensive rebounds (although they scored only seven second-chance points). Cleveland’s 22.4 percent offensive rebound rate in that game was nothing spectacular in this early part of the season — they are 21st in the league with that rate in the early season rankings.

Still, the warning remains.

Orlando’s poor rebounding so far this season is something Clifford wants his team to keep an eye on. They struggled with it in the preseason. And he knows the Magic need to raise their intensity level.

"“We’re going to have to pick up our physicality,” Clifford said at Friday’s practice. “We got beat badly on the glass. Let’s face it, we didn’t play a good second half. We are going to have to sustain our play better.”"

In reviewing the Magic’s first game, Clifford said he liked the team’s ability to limit turnovers (13 turnovers for 11 Cavaliers points) and the team’s resilience. When Cleveland made runs to take out Orlando’s lead, Orlando seemingly had an answer to extend things back out.

That rebounding piece though still sticks out to him. With the Magic up by 15 with two minutes left, the Cavaliers made three 3-pointers to close the gap to six. One of those came off an offensive rebound. And that made the game suddenly in doubt.

Orlando’s defense was very good most of the night holding Cleveland to just 85 points. But giving up those offensive rebounds put the Magic in a dangerous spot. If Orlando wants to remain a solid defensive team, they have to win the glass.

"“On both ends of the floor, I think we can do a better job getting in there and trying to get offensive rebounds,” Jonathan Isaac said after practice Friday. “Making teams limit themselves to one possession. That’s a big part of defense and a big part of winning. [We] just have to hit first and be mindful of hitting first.”"

Orlando did not do well to attack the offensive glass either. While that is an emphasis for the team, the Magic do not want to sacrifice attacking the offensive glass by not getting set on defense. They know defense is their strength.

Last year, at least, so was defensive rebounding.

The Magic finished last year third in the league with a 75.4 percent defensive rebound rate. Securing the glass and limiting second-chance points — they gave up only 10.9 second-chance points per game, the best mark in the league — is a key to their defense.

Limiting any team to one shot — and a tough one at that — is what makes a good defense.

Looking at the raw numbers then, Clifford’s concerns from the first game might be a bit overblown. Cleveland’s offensive rebound rate Wednesday was lower than what Orlando gave up last year when the team was among the elite in that category.

But Clifford certainly can see problems bubbling up. In the preseason, Orlando was the second-worst team in the league in defensive rebound rate grabbing just 67.3 percent of their boards. That problem does not appear to be going away, at least to his liking.

And so the emphasis remains on solidifying this aspect of their game and making physicality a habit.

"“Last game we were really good defensively,” Mohamed Bamba said after practice Friday. “There were still possessions we didn’t finish. Defensive rebounding goes hand in hand with getting stops.”"

The Magic know defense is key to their wins. They are getting set to play a very talented offensive team in the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. With their 3-point shooting ability and ability to spread teams out and go 5-out often, the Magic know they will have to be focused on getting rebounds to lock them down defensively.

Everything for the Magic will start with that physical element then. Clifford said increasing physicality will start with hitting somebody when the ball goes up. Success really does come with simple things like boxing out and getting a body on someone after a shot.

The Magic know they will have to continue getting better in this area. They know it was key to their success last year. The crisis may not be as bad as Clifford states it (at least after one regular-season game).

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But Orlando knows the biggest adjustment it must make is to remain a physical, rebounding team to finish off their defensive efforts.