The Orlando Magic were reeling after a 41-point second quarter. The Brooklyn Nets had blitzed them with their offensive attack and the Orlando Magic had helped them with turnovers and mistakes that fed their fast break and attack.
The last thing a team can do against a team as high-powered as the Nets is to give them extra possessions.
Trailing by 18 now entering the second half, any chance at a comeback would have to start with their execution and their ability to play at a high level. They could not afford any mistakes and certainly not the mistakes that cost them early in the game.
So how did the second half start?
Orlando did not even get the chance to initiate its offense. And Brooklyn made the team pay with a DeAndre Jordan tip in to build a 20-point lead again.
The Magic would get hit harder a few trips down. The Magic worked the ball inside to Nikola Vucevic and he started to work. But Kyrie Irving left his man and blindsided Nikola Vucevic, stealing the ball and scampering to the other end for a near-dunk.
Social media laughed at the bench’s reaction to this dunk. The Nets were having a good time. The Magic were not. They had turned the ball over twice in their first three possessions. They had no chance to come back into the game.
In all, the Magic turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 18 times leading to 24 Nets points. It was the third-most turnovers the team had committed all year and the 11th game so far this season with 15 or more turnovers.
This is clearly not an isolated problem. And despite the team’s relatively low turnover numbers, the Magic are giving up points off these turnovers.
The Orlando Magic might be a relatively low-turnover team, but their turnovers are hurting and leading directly to points putting the Magic in a deeper hole game in and game out.
Turnovers like the first play above are unacceptable but rarely hurt the team in a significant way. The ball goes out of bounds and the team can reset.
The Magic’s turnover problems lie more in the second turnover of this set. The live-ball turnovers that lead to run-outs and fastbreaks. Here is where the Magic have seen huge slips in their play that have hurt their previously top-ranked defense.
Add on top all the injuries and the struggling offense. And these mistakes gave the Magic no chance to win Thursday in Brooklyn, let alone compete on a regular basis.
“For all the firepower they have, the opportunity for turnovers is difficult,” Vucevic said after Thursday’s game. “Once they get the ball, they like to run out and get easy shots. I think it’s just difficult. When you add their shotmaking to that, it’s hard. For us, what hurt us was the fact we only scored 85-90 points.”
The poor offense only highlights the problems the Magic are facing right now. It decreases the margin for error — as Steve Clifford said after the game, right now the team has less than a zero margin for error — and amplifies any mistakes the team makes.
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For the season, the Magic are posting a solid, but not spectacular turnover rate of 13.6-percent, good for ninth in the league.
That is down from previous seasons — the Magic were fourth in turnover rate last year 12.9-percent and sixth in 2019 at 13.3-percent. But that slip is understandable considering the team has played the majority of its season with questions at point guard and little practice time to drill in sets completely.
The real issue this year has been how teams have exploited those precious few turnovers. The Magic are committing the kind of turnovers that lead directly to points on the other end.
This season, the Magic are giving up 17.2 points off turnovers, 19th in the league. This came after the Magic were among the best in the league in not giving up points off turnovers — ranking second last year 14.3 points per game and third in 2019 at 14.7 points per game.
Those differences seem slight and more turnovers inevitably create more opportunities to score off them. But the Magic are essentially giving up 1.3 points off of every turnover (they commit 13.5 per game). It is almost to the point that a turnover from the Magic is a guaranteed two points on the other end.
The Nets scored 24 points off the Magic’s 18 turnovers including 16 off 11 turnovers in the first half and 11 points off eight turnovers in the second quarter alone.
The Magic cannot succeed on these margins.
“I wouldn’t call it frustration,” Carter-Williams said after Thursday’s game. “We’ve been down before and come back and won. I think we pretty much stay together at this point. It’s just one of those games where you are playing a team that’s more talented than you and you don’t do the right things to win. We didn’t move the ball like we should have. We didn’t take care of the ball like we should have. There were a million things we didn’t do to win the game. I wouldn’t say frustration is something that affects our team.”
Clifford has always advertised himself as a coach that teaches the fundamentals. As everyone often repeats, his teams do not beat themselves. And part of that equation is with turnovers and limiting transition points. He wants to force teams to play against set defenses.
And the Magic’s half-court defense has started making serious strides in the last few weeks. Orlando’s defense is starting to get better.
But the team still needs some semblance of an offense. And the mistakes are leading to the very issues that plague the team.
On top of all those points the Magic are giving up from their increased turnovers, they are giving up a lot more fast-break points too.
The Magic are now 25th in the league giving up 14.0 fast-break points per game. They ranked fourth last year at 11.9 points per game and ninth in 2019 at 12.7 per game. Teams have been able to run on the Magic.
Missed shots and long rebounds might be part of that equation. But undoubtedly turnovers are too.
Clifford said he spoke to his analytics team to figure out the transition defense and their analysis claimed the team’s transition defense has been largely fine. It is live-ball turnovers that are killing the Magic in this usually strong category.
“It’s ball security,” Clifford said after Thursday’s game. “You’ve got to throw the ball to the guy beside you. This was overdribbling, throwing it to the guy beside you and ball pressure. It’s not frustration, it’s purpose of play.
“We’re not that team,” Clifford continued. “We can’t give possessions away. We have no room for error. When they say you have a little room for error, we have less than that. We can’t beat yourselves and we can’t turn the ball over. That’s where it started.”
Carter-Williams agreed that many of the Magic’s problems were self-inflicted. A lot of over-dribbling and not moving the ball.
How much of this can the team equate to the lack of experience at point guard? How much can it equate to the lack of practice time and training camp time?
Either way, this is an area that the team has had major slips in. If anyone is looking for a reason why the Magic are falling down the standings and have slipped from a top-10 defense to 16th in the league, this is a big reason why.
Orlando has struggled with turnovers for some time. The Nets just made all those issues come to roost.