The Orlando Magic again could not rely on its outside shooting to hold off a quality team and instead saw the chance to win and stake their claim slip away.
Throughout the season, the Orlando Magic were never a great team when it came to shooting the ball.
There were signs though during the five-game winning streak that maybe things were changing. The team scored at least 120 points in all of those games and were shooting the ball well in all of those games. If the team moved the ball effectively, they could hit open shots and make defenses pay.
Orlando may not be able to create its own shot or hit enough contested threes to be an offensive juggernaut, but the team’s playing style would make defenses pay for its mistakes.
But the Magic are starting to revert back to the cold-shooting ways that plagued the team early in the season. And they are starting to regress at a time when they need to be getting better and peaking toward the playoffs.
To be sure, despite clinching a second straight playoff berth thanks to the Washington Wizards’ loss Friday, the Magic are not having that breakthrough. Their shooting — and specifically their 3-point shooting — is now among the things the team has no clue whether it can count on night-to-night.
Friday’s 108-101 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers certainly showed how valuable the Orlando Magic’s 3-point shooting can be. And how much it is keeping them from breaking through.
Orlando made only 8 of 32 3-pointers in Friday’s game, shooting 42.0-percent overall.
The team’s specialist in that department, Terrence Ross, went scoreless for the game, going 0-for-10 from the field and 0-for-4 in his attempts from deep.
He was hounded by 76ers defenders all night and any time he tried to come off a screen he often found his shots being blocked and he couldn’t find any rhythm offensively.
Even Ross had to admit to fans on Twitter how much he struggled. It was an abnormal game from him.
When Ross cannot get going in the second unit, the Magic are in trouble. But for most of the night, the Magic were able to sustain, and even held a two-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Orlando’s defense was on point for most of the night, doing a good job scrambling and crowding the paint. They held Joel Embiid relatively in check with hard double teams into the post.
But their poor shooting caught up to them in the fourth, where the team shot 2 for 10 from 3-point range and scored just 22 points, being outpaced in the period by nine points to lose the game 108-101.
Orlando lost its defensive discipline and so the team’s bad shooting ultimately gave way to a disappointing defeat.
What is most frustrating is how well things started for the Magic in the bubble. It seemed like Orlando was carrying over its strong offense from before the hiatus.
The Magic shot 52 percent overall and 47 percent from three-point range against the Sacramento Kings in their most recent win. The team looked on fire for the majority of the game, dismantling the team the entire way in one of the Magic’s most complete offensive performances.
But since then, it has been a different story.
The team shot better than 40 percent from three against the Indiana Pacers, but the team has been pedestrian from beyond the arc lately.
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In the last two games, the team’s stroke has gone from red hot to ice cold. The Magic shot 36 percent against the Toronto Raptors. The team was 6 for 21 on 3-point attempts where the closest defender was more than six feet away and 3 for 13 on attempts when the closest defenders was 4-6 feet away, according to NBA.com’s tracking statistics.
The loss to the Raptors could very easily be pinned on the team’s inability to make open shots. The Magic got plenty of them.
The same thing happened Friday against the 76ers. Orlando got its fair share of open shots. But the difference in Friday’s game was how the Magic seemed to settle for the outside shot. They always found their most success attacking the basket.
The fourth quarter saw the team settling on the outside and getting disrupted by a suddenly locked-in 76ers defense. Orlando could not crack the code yet again.
Certainly fatigue has played some factor — Orlando has played five games in eight days. But that is a reality for everyone.
“I think I can speak for everybody, we’re all tired and heavy-legged,” D.J. Augustin said after Friday’s game. “At the same time, we’re here to do a job. It doesn’t matter. We have to fight through that and play every game like it’s our last. Everyone in the bubble is tired right now. That’s not an excuse. You have to push through it and keep fighting.”
Finding a way to beat quality teams has been the biggest issue facing the Magic this year. It has become an even bigger issue since entering the bubble, where Orlando is no 0-3 against teams with records better than .500. The team has only five such wins the entire season.
It is a good sign for them this game was closer and that they hung in with good defense. But the poor shooting is something that the team needs to improve on if they want to give fans an exciting moment in the postseason and achieve their goal of being competitive in their playoff series.
Players like Evan Fournier need to provide shooting if they are going to play big minutes down the stretch in games. Fournier was better attacking the basket and collected some points late, but he was wayward from deep yet again, making only two of his seven 3-pointers.
If Gary Clark is going to get starts in place of an injured Aaron Gordon, he cannot go 1 for 5 from three. He needs to be able to contribute more than that.
James Ennis also has to be more effective from deep to stay in games. Defenses are already daring him to beat them by ignoring him on the perimeter. Ennis was good sneaking into the lane on cuts and offensive rebounds, but he made only one of his four 3-pointers in the game. And the Raptors flat-out ignored him Wednesday.
If this team wants to be a contender instead of a pretender in the not so distant future, these players will need to step up to a level the team hasn’t seen on a consistent enough level.
The Magic have seen it in spurts, and against competition that isn’t elite, but it has to happen against the good teams.
And it has to happen soon.