Orlando Magic’s youth keeping team from retaining adjustments, growing

The Orlando Magic are still struggling to make in-game adjustments and show progress in areas necessary for winning. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic are still struggling to make in-game adjustments and show progress in areas necessary for winning. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

169. 110. 38. Final. 114

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford knows he has a young team. He knows the team that he is working with is still figuring the league out and finding where they belong. Each game is a learning and growing experience for them. Young players are getting their chance each night.

Still, there are some basic things Clifford wants to see the team grasp. It has been a repeated request and a repeated problem for Clifford as he tries to get this young team on the same page.

Against the Denver Nuggets a few weeks ago, Clifford lamented his team’s inability to take the adjustments written down and discussed in the huddle and execute them on the floor. Picking things up that quickly is a necessity in the NBA, especially with limited practice time and the limitations of this season.

This has remained the biggest challenge for this young Magic team. Implementing adjustments and changing on the fly have been a challenge. Even in this year that has seen nothing but constant change.

Clifford has not been able to build the consistent playing groups or rotations he would like to support a young roster. Injuries have made sure of that — and two more veterans in Terrence Ross (back spasms) and James Ennis (calf injury) missed Sunday’s loss to the Houston Rockets. Everything is still up in the air and for young players especially, this creates uncertainty and instability.

The Magic have been at their best since the trade deadline when they have had this consistency and a few veterans to give the young player some stability.

Still, there are moments where there is nothing the team can do. The team has to be able to adjust and learn on the fly — applying changes and fixes with nothing more than the coaches’ instruction.

The Orlando Magic have struggled to make in-game adjustments and increase their intensity when teams press them. That is an important step for this young team to grow.

Why did the Magic lose 114-110 to the Houston Rockets?

The same reason the team lost to the Toronto Raptors on Friday. They came out of the locker room flat, unable to capitalize on a strong first-half performance or adjust to a team playing with a bit more intensity and focus after a halftime to adjust.

"“I saw a lack of effort,” Cole Anthony said of the team’s third quarter Sunday. “It starts with myself. I didn’t play hard enough. We’ve got to be better as a unit. The more effort we give, the less that will happen. We played a pretty solid three quarters, enough to give us a chance to win the game even with that very lackluster third quarter. If we clean that up, I think we’re looking at a win.”"

The Magic gave up 32 points in the third quarter, watching a six-point halftime lead devolve into an eight-point deficit. That would grow to 14 in the fourth quarter before the team finally snapped back to attention and gave them a chance.

After a strong defensive first half — giving up 103.9 points per 100 possessions — Orlando gave up 127.1 points per 100 possessions and 52.5-percent from the floor including 9-for-19 shooting from beyond the arc.

This tracks with many of the struggles the Magic have had since the trade deadline. Orlando is giving up 114.8 points per 100 possessions in the first halves of games. In the second half, the team gives up 117.7 points per 100 possessions, the second-worst mark in the league since the trade deadline.

Orlando’s third-quarter problems are really just issues from the last two games. The team has played decent defense in the third quarter with a -1.8 net rating since the trade deadline. But all the same problems have been present.

Orlando has struggled to adjust especially when the team has had some success. The Magic simply has not been able to build any kind of consistency.

"“For the second game in a row we played a good, solid first half,” Clifford said after Sunday’s game. “Really our intensity dropped and the other team came out much tougher. Just like Toronto did in the third quarter defensively.”"

The third quarter for the Magic on Sunday was a mixture of several things.

The Rockets came out with a lot more intensity and determination to attack the basket. They worked inside-out a whole lot more to get their offense going. They stopped turning the ball over, giving the Magic fewer opportunities to run out.

Orlando did not help itself. The team’s offense has been inconsistent, to say the least. The Magic made only 7 of 21 shots and 1 of 7 3-pointers in the third quarter Sunday. Orlando lost the ball movement that helped the team stake a double-digit lead in the first half. No one seemed able to shake the group loose.

Worse still, the team started turning the ball over and getting sloppy. The attention to detail and focus that the team needs to succeed started to wane.

All statements that Orlando was trying to use its defense to power its offense seemed to go by the wayside. It just became a cycle of everything not working and the Magic quickly found the tables turned.

"“We just didn’t play any defense,” Dwayne Bacon said after Sunday’s loss. “The whole third quarter, we didn’t play defense. We fought back. But we came out and played good basketball for three of the four quarters. But the object of any game is to play for 48 minutes. We didn’t do that in the third quarter.”"

Against a better team, that might have been enough to bury the team. In the loss to the Raptors on Friday, Paul Watson’s 20-point outburst was enough to put the game too far out of reach. Orlando deserves some credit for fighting back and giving itself a chance to win the game again — pulling within three midway through the fourth quarter.

But this is part of what a young team has to go through. Young teams go through these mistakes and have to learn how to play and win.

There are plenty of young players like Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter playing in the starting lineup and gaining experience. That experience will have to include their ability to adjust at halftime and absorb pressure. Both have struggled to do that.

Carter scored just two points on 1-for-2 shooting in the second half as the defense took him out of the gameplan completely in the second half for the second straight game. He did grab six rebounds, helping the team out on the glass.

Anthony struggled too in the third quarter as the Magic fell behind with just two points on 1-for-3 shooting and a turnover in the third quarter. He did have two assists.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That ball movement is probably still the weakest part of Anthony’s game (despite his nine assists in this game). And that was probably what ultimately cost the Magic the game.

What Clifford wants to see is the team to grow and to gain the ability to make adjustments and solve these problems in real-time. He wants to see the team make progress and improve, seeing the same challenges and succeeding at them.

This is the big question the Magic have yet to answer. They continue to blow sets coming out of timeouts — Clifford said they missed a couple of plays set up to get Carter in the post Friday and again the Magic’s offense seemed to get derailed by missed shots and pressure defense in Sunday’s loss.

It is hard to say the Magic made progress Sunday night. And they are still learning how to adjust that way.

Next. R.J. Hampton Then and Now. dark

Losses may help the Lottery odds. But they do not help the team grow. Especially when the team continues to see repeated mistakes without growth.