Orlando Magic will have issues if they can’t limit fast break opportunities

Giannis Antetokounmpo is at his best when he is in transition. The Orlando Magic have to find a way to slow him down. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Giannis Antetokounmpo is at his best when he is in transition. The Orlando Magic have to find a way to slow him down. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic will need to limit the Milwaukee Bucks’  fast-break opportunities if they want to compete in their playoff series.

It is a make-or-miss league.

And when the Orlando Magic miss shots during this playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks, there is arguably the best player in the open court in the modern NBA in Giannis Antetokounmpo coming full speed at the rim while defenders are backing up.

It is one of the reasons why he is so great. Antetokounmpo is able to get to the basket at will because of his uncanny athleticism and speed. Especially when opponents miss shots and the Bucks get long rebounds that can start fast breaks.

The Magic have to find ways to limit those opportunities if they want any chance to win in this series. It was actually one of their biggest weaknesses in the four-game season series.

This season, the Bucks averaged 18.0 fast-break points per game, the third-most in the league. These kinds of plays power their offense. With the best defensive rating in the league by far, Milwaukee is able to turn misses into easy breaking opportunities.

This is an area the Magic are typically very good at. Orlando gave up only 11.9 fast-break points per game this season, the fourth-fewest in the league. But against the Bucks, the Magic gave up 19.3 fast-break points per game.

That nearly eight-point difference can make or break games, turning close contests into blowouts. A stray shot that leads to a break or a live-ball turnover that creates a transition opportunity can devastate the Magic’s chances.

To say, the least, finding a way to slow down Milwaukee’s transition and set up in the half-court is at the top of the list of things Orlando has to do against Milwaukee.

The last thing the Magic need is for Antetokounmpo to get comfortable running the floor on fast breaks due to a lack of focus or bad shot selections.

Orlando has to be locked in offensively and continue to look for the open man. Taking bad shots because can lead to the type of rebounds that can potentially start the fast break opportunities Antetokounmpo thrives on. The team’s defensive basketball IQ has to be on at an all-time high in this series.

This is again, where the Magic struggled in the season series. Orlando shot just 38.3 percent from the floor and 32.2 percent from deep. Orlando had a strong start in the opening game, but quickly succumbed to taking rushed shots as they struggled to break the Bucks’ defense.

Most teams in the league can say that. Milwaukee has one of the toughest defenses in the league. Their drop coverages make it hard to score in the paint — they give up the fewest points in the paint per game at 38.7 — and that compact shape makes it easier to get rebounds and get going whenever they create the opportunity.

There is no easy way to defend Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo is a force who can get in the lane at will and the team has shooters around him. But the Bucks can struggle some in the half-court. Despite all their offensive weapons, they ranked only eighth in the league in offensive rating.

Tough and potentially elite, but that leaves some hole for them to get through. A tiny one.

More from Orlando Magic Daily

Orlando has struggled to squeeze through that door. And it will likely hit on the Magic’s overall struggles this season — a lack of a consistent scorer and playmaker, poor three-point shooting and inconsistent offensive efforts.

The only recipe to defend Antetokounmpo and the fast break is to hit open shots and make the Bucks play a half-court style of game where Antetokounmpo has to be a playmaker rather than a rim rattler.

Orlando has to give its defense a chance to set up. That might be the only way to slow him and this team down.

The Magic’s defense, although hardly elite and still struggling to regain its early-season form, ranked 11th in the league giving up 109.2 points per 100 possessions. Since the season restarted, Orlando has given up 113.0 points per 100 possessions. That ranked 13th among the teams that played at the NBA campus.

Orlando has to tighten up its defense. And especially their transition defense — the Magic gave up 13.5 fast-break points per game since the season restarted. Missing shots and the team’s overall poor offense certainly had something to do with that.

Steve Clifford and his staff have to create ways to limit the Bucks’ transition opportunities.

First, the coaching staff has to find ways to get good looks for shooters like Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross and D.J. Augustin so there will not be any forced shots and long outlet rebounds for the Bucks. They also need to be smart about their shot selection and not force things.

Milwaukee will force mid-range jumpers and Orlando has to take them confidently to get the defense to spread out more.

The Bucks will give up their share of 3-pointers too — 39.3 attempts per game this season, the most in the league. And so there is an opportunity to hit from deep if the team remains patient and confident with their shot.

Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks /

Milwaukee Bucks

When they miss or turn the ball over, the Magic have to be focused on running back to set up their defense. It likely means Clifford will stick to his strategy of keeping the Magic from attacking the offensive glass. Orlando will need a premium on their initial shots because they likely will concede getting a second.

Stopping the break is far too important unless a rebound falls in their lap.

This is some of the formula from how the Toronto Raptors won a lot of its games against the Milwaukee Bucks last year in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In Games 3-6, the Raptors were able to set up their defense correctly and foul or draw charges from Antetokounmpo when he attempted to attack the paint. They successfully built a wall to keep Antetokounmpo from getting downhill and turned him to allow their defense to reset and re-pressure.

So inevitably the league’s MVP was sent to the free throw line or called for a charge instead of converting some sort of monster dunk in the lane. And those free throws slow down the tempo of the game and allow opponents to catch their breath between runs.

Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka also had fantastic hands and were able to get their fair share of swipes and steals, further slowing him down. The Magic may not be able to reach as effectively — especially considering their depth issues at the forward position. But even if guards are able to help and make Antetokounmpo slow down, it will go a long way.

Milwaukee’s fast-break dunks from Antetokounmpo create positive momentum for the team. The 3-point snipers look a lot more confident on the wing on fast breaks as well.

Next. Orlando Magic have to do the simple things better to defeat the Bucks. dark

So limiting those fast break opportunities will be key as the Magic compete inside of the NBA Playoffs.