Orlando Magic will need offensive force from the start for Game 4

Markelle Fultz will have a big say in controlling the pace and giving the Orlando Magic some offensive force. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz will have a big say in controlling the pace and giving the Orlando Magic some offensive force. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have been taken aback and put on their back foot in their Games 2 and 3 defeats. To win a must-win Game 4, the Magic have to start fast.

There is not much time for Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford to get his team ready.

The only way for the league to successfully get through this campus idea and play all their games to finish the postseason required a day between each game. It has been an exhausting run from the beginning of the NBA’s restart to this point.

But especially in the playoffs, there is little time to prepare and install new sets and get a team truly ready for any changes. Coaches have to balance wearing down players’ bodies with making sure they get the work necessary in to play a playoff game.

When you are a team like the Orlando Magic facing a daunting task like the Milwaukee Bucks, that makes the job even harder. For two games the Bucks had put the pressure and screws on the Magic’s defense. Orlando showed little response and little way to push through.

They need the time to figure this out and respond. They need to respond regardless.

Orlando players said throughout the series they understand the best teams find a way to get better as a series goes on. Now in the middle of the series, the Magic are seeking a way to get better.

For them, the answers will come with offensive force and how they start the game.

"“You’re not going to get a lot of easy ones against them,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Sunday. “We had some threes that didn’t go down. We played better offensively as the game went on. We are going to have to have a readiness to start the game and more offensive force to get the ball going toward the basket.”"

Different for the start

Undoubtedly the easiest difference between the Game 1 win and the Games 2 and 3 losses was the first quarter. That has been a stress for coach Steve Clifford since the beginning of the series. The Orlando Magic cannot play this series from behind as it is simply too difficult to make up ground against the league’s best defense.

A lot of that comes down to paint touches.

According to NBA.com’s tracking statistics provided by Second Spectrum, the Magic averaged 24.8 paint touches per game (6.3-percent of their touches were considered paint touches). This was the fourth-most in the league.

In the playoffs, those have decreased to 16.7 paint touches per game (4.0 percent of all touches).

Orlando averaged 42.4 drives per game during the regular season (defined as a player going from at least 20 feet from the basket to 10 feet from the basket) and have seen that drop to 40.0 per game in the playoffs.

Taking the decreased drive numbers with the decreased paint touches suggests that Orlando’s drives are not resulting in passes toward the basket or even drives reaching the paint or rim. Orlando is in the paint a whole lot less.

These stats likely do not reflect every time the ball hits the paint, but it gives at least some picture of how little the Magic are getting into the paint.

That is part of what the Milwaukee Bucks are very good at defending. And the Magic have had to find a way to play struggling with this element.

"“When you have a gap there, a seam and you are able to get into the teet of the defense that is when we have been able to create open threes,” Clifford said after practice Sunday. “When you don’t do that, and you are not able to penetrate, it’s hard to get quality shots. They are so good in the paint and so good at the rim. But even the 3-point shooting starts with getting into the paint. That’s the name of the game at every level of basketball.”"

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

This is showing up especially early in games as the Magic are establishing their base. It is easy to say that much of the game and its tempo and control are decided in those first 12 minutes.

Orlando won the first quarter of Game 1 33-23. The team then lost the first quarter in Game 2 by 12 points and then Game 3 by eight points. The Bucks further asserted their dominance in the second quarter of each game, taking the Magic further out of the game.

Feeling the pressure

More than that though, the Orlando Magic’s poor shooting in the first quarter of both Games 2 and 3 — the infamous 3-for-24 performance in Game 2 and then a 9-for-21 (2-for-8 shooting from deep) shooting performance in Game 3 — set the tone for the rest of the game.

Orlando turned the ball over four times and did not get itself set on defense. While the Milwaukee Bucks also turned the ball over four times, the Orlando Magic were not able to pounce and get easy shots. Offensive struggles early have led to breakdowns they have not recovered from.

The Magic need to build confidence early in games. Orlando has to be ready for the pressure from the tip.

"“Regardless of you make it or miss it, just knowing the next one is going to come,” Gary Clark said after practice Sunday. “Just knowing if you miss that first three, just keep shooting because you are probably going to get six more to erase those first three. I think early on their ball pressure made it harder to make an on-target pass. Just being able to get guys more open. The third quarter guys loosened up their pressure a little bit and we got some open threes.”"

That should increase some of the urgency entering Game 4. Down 2-1 in the series, it would similarly be difficult to come back from a 3-1 hole against a team like the Bucks.

So the focus is on getting off to a better start.

Steve Clifford said after practice Sunday he is going to try to do a few more things to get Markelle Fultz and the other shooters open more. The team spent some time in practice installing some new offensive sets, something that would typically happen if there were more time between games in the first round.

Additionally, Aaron Gordon continued to go through rehab and work to try to return from hamstring injury. But he remains a gameday decision depending on how he feels. Clifford said he was feeling better after working out Saturday.

But the Magic will likely be preparing as if he will not play once again.

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The Magic have to be looking for a way to play through this pressure — both the stakes of the game and the pressure the Bucks have put on the Magic on the perimeter. That will start with Markelle Fultz who has struggled to break free from Eric Bledsoe’s physical play.

Fultz said he will have to push the pace some to get the team into the offense earlier. But part of that is still playing at an even keel. What the Magic do not want to happen is to get into a back-and-forth game. The Bucks led the league in pace too and thrive where both teams are going up and down the court repeatedly.

No time to waste

The Orlando Magic are still trying to adjust to this increase in physicality and assert its own game. Some of that is inexperience. Some of that is the shortcomings of their team.

But there is no time to waste. The season is very much on the line.

"“You have to make adjustments,” Markelle Fultz said after practice Sunday. “You play a game, you get a day off and then you play again. You can’t let mess-ups drain you too much. You have to have short-term memory. With the bad things, you have to learn from them and move forward.”"

That is perhaps the biggest lesson this young team has had to learn from the Playoffs in the last two years. They have struggled to adjust and meet the force and changes from these difficult teams they have played the last two years.

Orlando did not step up knowing full well the physicality the Bucks would play with in Game 3. It cost them a game and the lead in the series.

This game will be a big moment for the team to check how much it has learned and whether it can rally and fight back in this series.

Next. The Milwaukee Bucks are locked in. dark

The Magic will know very early on in the game if they are ready to do that.