Orlando Magic working against the 3-point math

Jrue Holiday and the Milwaukee Bucks put a 3-point barrage on the Orlando Magic as the Magic struggled to keep up. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jrue Holiday and the Milwaukee Bucks put a 3-point barrage on the Orlando Magic as the Magic struggled to keep up. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Final. 117. 38. 139. 89

The Orlando Magic were humming offensively. They had survived the Milwaukee Bucks’ initial onslaught and had started to assert themselves now. They were hitting threes at a decent clip and their offense was rolling.

Cole Anthony buried back-to-back threes to give the Magic a four-point lead. Paolo Banchero worked his way to the basket for a tough finish around Brook Lopez. The Magic were trying to show they would be in the fight after their long road uphill.

This is the Bucks though. A championship-level team that is playing at its best right now, riding a 15-game win streak that has seen them take significant steps forward offensively. And that is not even getting to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Magic’s brief spurt with their shooting was brief. The Bucks? They live on the 3-point line. And pretty soon the math was going to be impossible to account for.

Milwaukee burned off four straight 3-pointers in the second quarter after falling behind by four. Before the Magic could catch their breath as they reloaded with their starters, they were down by eight points. And it would be tough to get any closer.

The Bucks hit 15 3-pointers in the first half alone. It was something that kept the team in the game as the Magic struggled to lock down the paint and chase the Bucks off the 3-point line. Quite simply, the math becomes pretty impossible for the Magic when they give up this many threes.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ 3-point barrage put the Orlando Magic in a bind and gave them a path to victory that was far too narrow for them to walk.

The 3-point shooting had the act of ripping apart the Magic defense. The paint eventually did open up and Milwaukee waltzed to a 139-117 win. It did not matter how well Orlando shot, there were not enough baskets for the team make up ground against a team operating like Milwaukee.

"“You have to give them a ton of credit,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday’s loss. “That’s a team that’s rolling righ tnow. They share it, they move it, they create matchups. 26 threes. They took 56 of them. We were crowding the paint the right way, holding them to 38 points in the paint. Them knocking down 26 threes is hard to overcome.”"

It is not the loss that is surprising or concerning. The Bucks are a very good team playing at their absolute best right now. This Magic team just is not ready to play at a championship level.

Rather it is this continuing pattern and reality for this Magic team: Their pathway to victory is narrower because three-point shooting is at such a huge deficit.

The Bucks made 15 of 26 3-pointers in the first half. That was enough to counteract Orlando’s strong shooting and superb 6-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc. Already it is easy to see where there is a problem just from a pure math perspective: the Bucks are taking and making twice as many threes as the Magic.

Milwaukee ended the game hitting 26 of 56 threes. Orlando made just 9 of 33. Again, the math is simple. Orlando is not making or taking anywhere near this level of threes.

Some nights, teams are going to get hot and beat them. Just as some nights teams will go cold. The Magic seem content to play those odds, trusting their effort and length can close out those 3-pointers. It has largely worked for the past two months or so.

But what happened Wednesday night and the difficult math the Magic have to overcome is common for them and their opponents.

"“Our game plan was to load up,” Cole Anthony said after Wednesday’s loss. “In the first half we did a great job loading up. We were just a second late getting out to shooters in the first half. That allowed them to get into a rhythm. They got a lot of looks and a lot of uncontested looks. On the other side of that, they got a lot of offensive rebounds and a lot of dagger threes. That gives you a lot of confidence as well. A credit to them and a discredit to our defense.”"

This is part of the uphill climb Orlando faces every night offensively though.

The Magic are 23rd in the league in 3-point field goal percentage, making 34.6 percent of their attempts. That would not be so bad if they shot at more volume. But Orlando shies away from 3-point shots. The team is 27th in attempts at 30.7 per game and 27th in makes at 10.6 per game.

This would not be a problem if the team could limit 3-point attempts. But the opposite occurs.

Orlando ranks 29th giving up 37.3 3-point attempts per game and 28th giving up 13.1 3-point makes per game. That completely cancels out the fact that the Magic are ninth in the league in 3-point field goal percentage, giving up 35.0-percent shooting from deep.

Even giving up 2.5-3 more 3-pointers per game is nine points the team can struggle to make up.

And then sometimes you get extreme examples like Wednesday night when a high volume 3-point shooting team like the Bucks (fourth in the league in 3-point attempts per game at 40.4 per game and in makes at 14.6 per game).

And sometimes you get nights where high-volume teams cannot hit against you — the high-3-point volume Golden State Warriors made a combined 37 for 101 (36.6 percent) in two wins and the Boston Celtics made a combined 50 for 186 (26.9 percent) in their three-game series they went 3-1 in.

Three-point luck is a real thing. The Magic can overcome their 3-point deficit. But it makes life tougher when they cannot even get half of those 3-pointers back.

The way to make up that difference is by doing the things the Magic have largely been good at — scoring in the paint with efficiency, getting to the foul line and winning the turnovers/fast-break battle.

Orlando is 17th in the league in points in the paint per game, outscoring its opponents 49.1-47.9 per game this season. The team is third in the league in free throw rate at 30.0 percent (three free throws for every 10 field goal attempts and the first time the team has been in the top 10 since Dwight Howard was on the team).

And the team struggles with turnovers typically, ranking 26th in the league in turnover rate at 15.2 percent and getting outscored 14.9-12.5 points per game on fast breaks.

In Wednesday’s loss the Magic outscored the Bucks 56-38 in the paint, making 28 of 44 attempts in the paint. They outshot the Bucks at the foul line 29-19 (making 22 of those 29 free throw attempts).

The Magic did not even struggle much with turnovers, committing 13. But those 13 turnovers turned into 26 Milwaukee points. The Bucks punished the Magic for every mistake.

Wednesday’s loss might well have been a case of extreme bad 3-point shooting luck. But it still makes it evident how the Magic can struggle to make up the gap from being outshot from deep so handily.

It does not take much digging to realize that Orlando’s biggest offensive weakness right now is its lack of shooting. This is not a team flush with shooters (Paolo Banchero is just one for his last 35 3-point attempts). And the Magic have devised a strategy to work around that.

But it is hard to win and compete at the highest levels without consistent shooting. Shooting will open driving lanes and make this offense so much more potent.

Next. 3rd Quarter MVP: Franz Wagner makes it all work. dark

The last quarter of the season will help preview what this team needs to take its next step as much as it is about trying to chase down the postseason. And this one seems glaringly obvious to give the team a chance against elite squads.