Orlando Magic find themselves by sharing the load

Nikola Vucevic did not have his best game against the New York Knicks, but there was plenty of slack to pick it up for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic did not have his best game against the New York Knicks, but there was plenty of slack to pick it up for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) /

89. 27. 107. 38. Final

The Orlando Magic’s West Coast road trip was exceptionally difficult.

The weight of all the injuries that had followed the Magic throughout the course of the season was weighing the team down. The team could paint a positive picture of a group finding its defense (slowly) and fighting hard. But the record was still 1-3 and the season was still slipping away.

The Magic as they returned to Orlando for a critical stretch running into the All-Star Break, needed to start playing better quite simply. They needed to mix something up and they needed to get things moving.

But most importantly, they needed to be healthy.

Even coach Steve Clifford was worried about the heavy load his players had to carry throughout the road trip. Nikola Vucevic averaged 35.3 minutes per game, Terrence Ross averaged 35.2 per game and Dwayne Bacon averaged 34.8 per game. The team played essentially three of those games with just eight active players.

That is an impossible thing to ask even NBA players. If the team’s identity slipped or they came home without any wins it would have been at least partially understandable.

The good news when they got home then was that they got some players back. Evan Fournier and Al-Farouq Aminu were back from injuries that kept them out for most of the road trip. They signed Chasson Randle to replace the injured Frank Mason.

But more than just getting some bodies back to use on the bench, the Magic needed some players to help share the load. It would be impossible to ask Vucevic to average 27.0 points per game at the efficient levels he was for much longer.

They needed to share the load.

If there is a way for the Magic to win it is in making sure they share the load and contribute on both sides. It takes being tied together and moving the ball.

The Orlando Magic picked up an important win by sharing the load and with every player on the roster contributing something on both ends to defeat the New York Knicks.

It is not necessarily anything complex or difficult. But for one night, the Magic had everyone working together to make the team work. For one night, they shared the load and played with balance and composure.

"“It was great not just because of our minutes,” Vucevic said after Wednesday’s win. “But because we can actually play in the way we want to play. When you have guys out, it’s unbalanced. You have to play sort of differently and do things you aren’t necessarily used to doing. It’s just difficult to play that way. Tonight we had a more balanced team. We could run our stuff. Play more pick and roll and more two-man game. Just do stuff that is effective for us offensively. it showed. It was much easier to play. More people touched the ball and we had better flow.”"

Sharing the ball

The Orlando Magic recorded 27 assists, the fourth-highest mark on the season. They moved the ball effectively and found shooters on the perimeter. They screened and moved for each other, springing Terrence Ross free for 30 points on 5-for-6 shooting from deep.

Nikola Vucevic did not have his strongest game, making just 8 of 24 shots. But the team sprung him for several pick-and-pops and post-ups in the third quarter that helped Orlando stake a big lead.

Vucevic still played 37 minutes. But these were not the same heavy minutes that he played on the road trip. He was not the central figure of the offense (although he still took 24 shots). The Magic got others involved and had other players step up.

It made Vucevic’s job easier when he got the ball. But even that required a ton of teamwork.

The Magic not only had those 27 assists, they also had 52 potential assists (they average 45.2 per game) and seven secondary assists (they average 3.0 per game) according to tracking statistics from Second Spectrum.

"“Any time the ball moves and you can score easily, it’s good for the team,” Ross said after Wednesday’s win. “We definitely have to stick to that. That’ sour way to play, inside-out, playing through Vooch and playing simple. We’ve got to stick with it.”"

Making shots obviously makes those numbers look significantly better. But the team found open players throughout with Michael Carter-Williams driving to the paint and dumping it off or kicking it out to the perimeter. Orlando found the key and unlocked the Knicks’ defense with everyone contributing something.

And it is true everyone contributed something. Even Al-Farouq Aminu hit a 3-pointer.

The team went deep into its bench with 11 players playing significant time. Even Mohamed Bamba.

And Bamba contributed a lot that went beyond the box score — four points, 2-for-4 shooting.

Bamba recorded three screen assists for seven points. His screening helped spring Ross open for several shots. But it is the kind of under-the-radar thing that does not quite show up in a box score that are necessary for a young player like Bamba needs to get back onto the court.

Built on defense

But really the Orlando Magic built their lead on their defense, which takes a lot of effort and focus from a lot of players to get right consistently.

Here is where having a lot more bodies to throw on the court worked better. Every player seemed to do something good defensively and that fed the offense.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic’s 89.0 defensive rating was the second-best mark of the season. Orlando gave up just 10 points in the paint in the second half. It came from efforts from several players stepping up with the Magic enlarging their rotation to 11 players and using their full complement to get there.

Everyone played their part there. Chuma Okeke was flying around the court, picking up two steals and two deflections, according to NBA.com’s tracking stats. But it is more than just those deflection numbers, it is the way the team crowded the paint and reacted quickly to create transition opportunities.

Again, Mohamed Bamba played a big role here. Both he and Nikola Vucevic struggled to close the lane in the first half. But their positioning and ability to challenge shots in the paint in the second half helped spark the team’s revival.

Steve Clifford said after the game that Mohamed Bamba’s playing time right now might be matchup dependent. He seems to be taking a different strategy to the team’s rotation for the time being to get through another rush of games.

But playing Bamba for even just 10:22 with a full complement of players is a positive sign that he is playing well enough to see the court.

What the Magic proved in Wednesday’s game is they will need everyone to play well and find their way. The team is better if they can share the load rather than playing through one or two players. That is how this team is built.

The way the Magic played is how they are supposed to play.

dark. Next. Nikola Vucevic's All-Star bid makes him part of the team's future

Vucevic will have better games and shoot more efficiently. But the Magic know they have to play this way with everyone contributing and playing well to succeed.