The Orlando Magic’s strong offensive start has been credited to the team’s improved pace. But that mentality creates traps that Orlando can fall into.
Nikola Vucevic picked up a rebound and missed a putback, complaining for a foul. The usually stoic big man was animated and needed to be restrained from continuing to bark at the referees to prevent a second technical foul.
A few minutes later, Vucevic picked up another foul. Coach Steve Clifford motioned for Khem Birch to take Nikola Vucevic off the floor. Vucevic waved Birch off before eventually walking toward the sideline. He smacked a cooler before walking into the tunnel toward the locker room on is way to his spot on the bench.
That was the most visible and animated moment of frustration in a game full of them. A game where the team did not have the focus or intensity it needed from the start of the game, the Magic took one on the chin.
They will have to wait until Saturday to make good on it. Until then, they will have to figure out why.
"“We don’t have to reinvent ourselves right now,” Vucevic said after Thursday’s loss. “It’s one horrible game that we didn’t play well. Before that, we’re 4-0 and everybody thought we were going to go 72-0. It’s not the end of the world. It’s about seeing what we did bad. It’s pretty easy to know. It’s things we know we can do and adjust no problem.”"
After dominating teams with a devastating offensive attack through the first four games — the fifth-best offense in the league at 114.3 points per 100 possessions — the Magic saw the limits of their focus on pace and the traps they could fall into. Pace alone is not going to change the team, like with their defensive shortcomings, it will take discipline to make it work.
The Magic had a bad shooting night but they only compounded those mistakes on both ends by trying to rush back into the game. It spiraled into the poor defensive effort they displayed.
Pace and Patience
Everything feeds off each other. And the Orlando Magic’s poor defense led to a panicked offensive effort as the poor offense led to a frustrating defensive effort.
When the Orlando Magic came back from a 17-point deficit against the Washington Wizards on Sunday, it came because they were able to get into the paint and work for good shots. They moved quickly, but they did not settle for quick shots. They were never in a hurry.
That was not the case Thursday. Orlando was trying to work too hard to climb out of their hole and the deficit they created.
"“I think that’s the whole key for our team is finding that balance,” Steve Clifford said after Thursday’s game. “If you have an advantage take it. If you’re 5-on-4, 4-on-3, what we’re calling quick strikes are layups, open threes, or like a Vooch or Aaron Gordon post up. Except for that, we need to quickly move into secondary options. That’s something that we got to be very good at last year but right now we’re a count slow.”"
The biggest discrepancy in the box score was the obvious one — the Philadelphia 76ers shot 48.4 percent while the Orlando Magic shot 34.7 percent. The game is that simple sometimes.
Orlando was shooting just 28.6-percent from the floor and 3-for-17 from beyond the arc in the first half. Philadelphia finished making 15 of 33 3-pointers. There was no way to make up that difference.
As the Magic got further and further behind, they definitely seemed to be trying to shoot their way out with quick baskets or forced play.
That only made the death spiral worse.
But the Magic’s offense never created the rhythm that it created in the previous games as the Magic tried to get their defense organized.
Orlando has rightfully put its focus on increasing its pace and playing faster through their offense. The Magic entered the game fourth in the league in pact with 105.1 possessions per 48 minutes.
But a quickened pace comes with drawbacks too. It can lead to teams thinking a faster pace and more possessions means quick shots rather than more intense actions. It can lead to wild play or bad shots that lead to fast breaks on the other end.
The Orlando Magic never really found their rhythm. And as the hole got deeper, Orlando only seemed to be going faster to dig themselves out, settling for quick jumpers and staying out of the paint.
"“It’s a fine line for sure. We want to play at a faster pace,” Nikola Vucevic said after Thursday’s game. “But a faster pace does not necessarily mean taking early shots. It is getting the ball up the floor faster. We can still play at a faster pace in the half-court and move faster from one side to the other and from one action to the other. I feel like sometimes we settle for the first good we get instead of getting the better shot. I think that hurts us throughout the game when we have empty stretches.”"
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Orlando simply did not attack the paint aggressively or get the ball moving. After seeing shots fall with regularity through the first four games, the Magic simply could not create quality looks or hit the ones they were getting.
Clifford puts a huge emphasis on paint touches and the Magic were certainly not getting inside throughout the game.
Entering the game, Orlando averaged 50.0 points in the paint per game. They finished the game with 42. They had only eight — on 4-for-13 shooting — at halftime.
The Magic were not doing the things that made their offensive so potent before. The things they will need to do to win in the long run.
Orlando at least did not let the game get totally out of hand because they found some pockets and spurts of decent play. But it was never at the level that led them to four wins to open the season.
What pace creates
This is really what pace is supposed to create. It is supposed to put pressure on defenses by weaving in and out and forcing the defense to react at all times throughout the game. Giving them a moment to rest or settling for a quick shot gives the team a break.
It was their poor attack in the paint that really cost the team as they stayed on their back foot trying to attack Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers’ strong interior defense.
That set the tone for a blowout loss.
"“We came in the game not moving the ball,” Dwayne Bacon said after Thursday’s loss. “When you don’t move the ball, the offense won’t play well. We can’t come down and keep it on one side and keep it in one hand for that whole possession. We have to try to get everybody to touch the ball or each possession or move it around where we get at least two passes to move the defense and make a move off that.”"
Teams around the league have had nights like these. The LA Clippers lost by 51 to the Dallas Mavericks last week and the Miami Heat lost by 47 to the Milwaukee Bucks. Both teams came back in their next outings and won, the Heat defeating those same Bucks by 11 the next night.
This game will become meaningless if the Magic answer it Saturday with a better effort and another victory. Everyone is afforded a bad night and with this strange season, the bad nights have looked a lot worse.
But these things happen for a reason too.
The Magic are asking their team to play faster and be more free-flowing. That has proven effective. But if not done properly or done the right way, that can clearly leave this team in a bit of a trap. A trap they can easily fall through and get burned on if they are not careful.