The Orlando Magic had to be hungry after their close loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night. They saw in that game their offense shrivel up under pressure late in the game as they again had to scrap and fight to get a win.
Their defense continued to lead the way and establish itself as a tough thing to crack. But their offense continued to leave the door wide open as the Magic have simply struggled to make shots despite decent looks and decent ball movement.
It is just three games into the season, but that level of frustration can affect a team. Eventually it would affect the defense.
That dam finally broke in the third quarter of Tuesday’s 118-102 loss to the LA Clippers. This Magic team can have all the effort in the world, but the team can let go of the rope and the offense can be a hindrance to the team being competitive.
The Orlando Magic finally seemed to crack as the LA Clippers found a way to run roughshod over their defense and blew a close game open with a big third quarter. That run was a warning sign for the Magic.
The Clippers outscored the Magic 41-21, with 30 points coming from a suddenly awake and aggressive Paul George and Russell Westbrook, to erase a small Magic advantage and blow the game open. Orlando struggled to make up much ground the rest of the game and never truly got back into it on either end.
This Magic team is fallible and has some serious flaws. Flaws their defense were able to cover up until Tuesday’s explosion.
"“Our effort is there,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday’s game. “Our attention to detail, we will continue to improve on. We get to the free throw line 33 times, we shoot 7 for 30. We are getting the open looks. But you have to be able to knock them down.”"
It is only game four of 82, but there were signals for Orlando this game that are warnings for the Magic for the rest of the season.
This was just a game where the Magic struggled to stay engaged and clean up the details and points the Magic have to have.
Orlando left easy points on the board. As a team, the Magic missed 14 of their 33 free throws. In a 16-point game, those misses were killer. In the second half alone, Orlando went 13 for 26 from the foul line. The Magic were 7 for 14 in the decisive third quarter.
Certainly more of those makes could have helped stop the bleeding and perhaps calmed the team down defensively. It certainly would have helped boost an offense that struggled all night to make shots consistently — the teams combined for 31 total points in the first quarter.
Orlando struggled again from the field, making 46.9 percent from the floor and shooting an abysmal 7 for 30 from deep (23.3 percent). The Magic made only 7 of 18 shots and missed all six 3-pointers in the third quarter.
The shots will eventually fall for Orlando. But the team cannot leave points at the free throw line and have to finish better at the rim — the team made 29 of 47 shots in the paint, but had some noticeable misses at point blank range.
Whether it be Wendell Carter Jr, Paolo Banchero or whoever else, Orlando has to do a better job at finishing at the rim. These are things the Magic can control. They promised they would be a team that did not beat itself. But that is exactly what happened.
Orlando cannot afford to allow frustrations on the offensive end affect how the team plays on defense. That is how George finally got himself going, scoring 14 of his 27 points in the third quarter. Russell Westbrook had 16 in the quarter as he took that energy and attacked the smaller Cole Anthony with little help or collapse at the rim.
They did start making tough shots and there was little the defense could do with some of it. But Orlando clearly lost a step and a pep in their step. The whole thing seemed like it was collapsing.
Further, Orlando struggled containing LA in transition. The Clippers scored 23 points of the Magic’s 16 turnovers (the Magic could only return 16 points off the Clippers 16 turnovers). They added 17 fast-break points, including nine in the third quarter. Orlando managed only five fast-break points for the game.
It may not yet be concerning that the Magic had their worst defensive game of the year — the Clippers only posted only a 112.4 offensive rating for the entire game. It is just one game after all and the Magic have been good against the fast break.
But this might have been the Magic’s worst offensive performance of the year at a 98.1 offensive rating. And it was clear those missed shots weighed on the team heavily throughout. The Magic just could never get themselves going.
For the first time this year, the team has to go hunting for some answers. This four-game road trip to start the season has indeed been revealing. And the schedule will not lighten up.
But this is what good teams have to do. The Magic cannot allow the losses start to pile up.
"“We all have confidence in each other knowing we can make shots and knock them down,” Jalen Suggs said after Tuesday’s game. “Just continuing to play the right way not allowing this to make some big shifts because we’re doing good things. We just have to execute and finish.”"
Rebuilding teams allow losing streaks to start and extend. This Magic team clearly does not want to be that. And so the team has to focus on regrouping to close the road trip Thursday against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.
It is not necessarily a must win game, but Orlando can not afford to allow this short losing streak from two to three and beyond. And the Magic have to find their flow and their way to win again. They have to tighten up their defense and be more effective on offense to give themselves a chance this season.