Orlando Magic can’t reinvent themselves facing elimination

Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic are making their last stand in Game 5. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic are making their last stand in Game 5. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are facing elimination and the tall task of extending the series. Accomplishing that won’t take change but a recommitment to themselves.

Playoff games can truly turn on only a few shots and a few little things. A lost loose ball, a three and a miss at just the right moment. There are usually about 100 possessions in a game, but two or three of them can tip the balance of a close game.

Trailing by three points entering the fourth quarter, the Orlando Magic could certainly point to a few possessions that seemed to change the momentum of the game. Orlando lost Game 4 by one more point than it lost Game 3, but Game 4 is the one the team will likely regret in the summer.

That three-point deficit ballooned so quickly to 19. The Magic watched the Bucks start to hit three after three. Orlando simply could not find a response.

That is how games get won or lost. It might have been OK if the Magic were still in the series or had a cushion. But this loss, after two blowout losses in Games 2 and 3, puts the Magic on the brink of elimination. It truly felt this was a game the team had to have.

How does a team recover? What does a team do to adjust?

With so much now on the line, the Magic know there is work to do to play better. But the one thing they do not do — that no team in this situation does — is to reinvent the wheel.

If anything, facing elimination should mean the Magic recommit to who they are.

"“We’ve been low turnover all year,” coach Steve Clifford said after Tuesday’s practice. “You don’t reinvent your habits for a playoff series. That is something either your team does well or not. Ball security is what we talked about the other day. We have to be strong with the ball. We have to be solid with the ball because they are turning our turnovers into easy baskets.”"

That was the biggest emphasis it seems. The two things Clifford pointed to as reasons for his team’s loss were the team’s uncharacteristically poor turnovers and rebounding.

Those are two central tenets of the team’s offense and defense. Steve Clifford teams do not turn the ball over and beat themselves. And defensive rebounding is an essential characteristic of the team.

Orlando finished the regular season fifth in the league defensive rebound rate (74.9-percent) and fourth in turnover rate (12.9-percent). Teams did not get second chances against them, nor the free points that come from turnovers.

The Magic have done a fantastic job limiting the Bucks’ fast-break opportunities. But both their rebounding and their turnovers have turned for the worse in the postseason.

The Magic have statistically improved their defensive rebound rate (77.6 percent). But the magic gave up the fewest second-chance points at 11.2 points per game in the regular season. That number has jumped to 12.8 per game.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Orlando’s turnover rate has jumped to 14.8 percent (Milwaukee has the worst turnover rate of any team in the playoffs, but Orlando is not quite taking advantage of this). For a team with a small margin of error needing to value every possession, these are opportunities lost.

Those feel like small differences. But in a game where one or two plays can determine everything, they add up. They are missed chances and free points and possessions the Bucks are taking.

"“Against a team like the Bucks, if you give them a double-digit lead like we did in Games 2 and 3 it’s very hard to play,” Nikola Vucevic said after practice Tuesday. “You have to waste so much energy to get back into it. Your margin for error is almost zero. When you play in a tight game and we can from ahead, it’s much easier to play. It also puts a little pressure on them. We have to start well. It’s going to be important. They are going to come out ready and try to put the game away early.”"

Orlando again is going to have to focus on getting off to a good start. They were able to get away with poor rebounding and lazy turnovers early on in Game 4. But that is exactly what doomed them in Game 3.

The margin for error is still small, but Orlando has felt after all three of its losses that it was the team’s own mistakes that cost it. The Magic still have something of a quiet confidence heading into Game 5.

Clifford said after Game 4 that he liked the team’s attitude. He trusts their character that they will head into this game with the focus to compete and give themselves a chance to win.

The big takeaway from Game 4 was that Orlando did more positive than negative. They put themselves in a position to win. Now they will have to do it again.

"“A playoff series can change quickly,” Clifford said after practice Tuesday. “What we have to concentrate on is what we tried to do today. Clarify what last night was all about — what was good, what was bad. We made a couple of adjustments to our pick and roll coverage. That will hopefully help us tomorrow. And we went through some things offensively that we hope can help also.”"

With so little practice time, the Magic have had to visualize and walk through these changes before executing them on the floor in real time. It has been a challenge different than the typical first-round series.

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But there is nothing Clifford is going to do to completely change things. They are going to run the same sets with small tweaks and look to get the same shots. No team at this point can completely reinvent itself.

The Magic are going to ride what got them to the playoffs.

They are still going to rely on Nikola Vucevic’s mid-range shooting and Markelle Fultz’s pace. They are going to rely on Evan Fournier’s shooting (as invisible as it has been) and Terrence Ross’ work off screens. James Ennis will still chase Khris Middleton. And Gary Clark will still be trusted to invite Giannis Antetokounmpo to run into the wall.

They are going to try to find ways to make it easier for them to do all those things, but there are few major changes to make at this point. Ross will not move into the starting lineup — that is a move Clifford is uncomfortable with because Ross has been so established on the bench.

Like he did in Game 4, Clifford will likely keep a tighter leash on lineups and players who are struggling. He is going to lean more on the players he trusts — for better or for worse.

This team seems determined to fight for their lives.

"“We’re still in here, we’re still trying to fight and win tomorrow to extend the series,” Vucevic said after practice Tuesday."

But ultimately, the Magic’s chances to win will rely on the Magic themselves. They have to play their basketball at a high level for 48 minutes.  With how good the Bucks are, even that might not be enough.

How the Orlando Magic wall Giannis Antetokounmpo. dark. Next

But Orlando is going to recommit to itself to give itself the best chance. The only way to survive is to be yourself.