The drumbeat for the Orlando Magic throughout the preseason and training camp when it comes to the offense is that the team will play by committee. That can be a shorthand for a lot of things. But for the Magic, it is meant to be a message to play an egalitarian and simple style of basketball.
The ball is meant to find the open player with anybody capable of driving toward the hoop and dishing out to an open teammate. Everyone is meant to have the confidence to shoot knowing there is an unselfishness to find the open shooter.
When it works, it looks magnificent. And with players like Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner capable of creating their own shots and putting pressure on the defense with their size and passing, it can be really gorgeous and devastating.
Orlando continues to show signs of how good this team can be on offense when it is all working.
The team also continues to show how quickly that can dry up. They continue to show how unreliable the team’s outside shooting can be. And even how young this team really is. The pieces are not completely together and not everything is reliable.
The Orlando Magic’s offense fell flat in a 117-102 loss to the Dallas Mavericks as the team’s poor movement dried up the entire attack in a lackluster second half.
There are a lot of messages and a lot of lessons to take from a frustrating 117-102 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at the Amway Center on Monday.
The biggest one — that should not be ignored even in a post about the offense — the Magic let their poor shooting in the second half affect their defense in the worst defensive performance of the season. Orlando always has to be about its defense first and foremost.
But the team neglected what made things work offensively. The flowing ball movement and togetherness that have characterized this team, it was shocking and frustrating how quickly that seemed to dry up. And how quickly that flustered everything else the Magic were trying to do.
"“You have to make shots,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “They mixed it up, they changed the defense up. The ball got stagnant. We got good looks. We got a lot of good looks in that run. They don’t go in, we can’t allow it to deflate our defense.”"
The difference between the first half and second half offensively was quite stark and a clear reason why the defense suddenly fell short.
Orlando scored 66 points making 7 of 11 3-pointers and dishing out 20 assists in the first half. The Magic turned around to score 36 points with just 1-for-16 shooting from three in the second half. Orlando had only seven assists. The team ultimately posted a 75.0 offensive rating in the second half.
Orlando won the battle in the paint overall with 52 points in the paint, but the team got outscored in the lane 24-18 in the second half. The Magic made just 9 of 19 shots in he paint overall.
Orlando struggled too to protect the ball. It was not that the team was not trying to pass and find teammates. The Magic had 21 turnovers in the game with nine coming in the second half. Banchero had five assists but seven turnovers as he struggled to squeeze passes through. The Mavericks had 15 total and just five in the second half.
There was nothing easy for Orlando to find offensively. Eventually everything sort of bogged down into Orlando trying to force the ball into Banchero in the paint. And the Mavericks just loaded up to stop him.
The ball just stuck.
"“I think we did obviously miss some shots,” Cole Anthony said after Monday’s game. “I think as a unit and me, I’m very guilty of this myself, trying to play some hero ball. We have to stay the course. We did some great things in the first half. We have to be a little better and not let the missed shots affect our defense and the other side of the ball.”"
Nobody is ever really selfish on this team. There were a lot of guys trying to make the right things happen. It just did not come easily for the team. And every time the Magic seemed to find something, they would miss a shot or hit some road block.
It is going to be hard to win a game in a situation like that regardless of who the opponent is. But especially with an opponent as offensively potent as the Mavericks, who came into the game ranked second in the league in offensive rating.
Meanwhile, the avalanche kept affecting the team on the other end. The Mavericks kept scoring and kept creeping back into the game until they finally retook the lead.
"“You’ve got to stick with what works,” Mosley said after the game. “You can’t get bored with doing the basics. That’s the one thing with the group, if it’s working, you have to stick with it. Sure they make adjustments. But with the way the ball can pop and move and go around the perimeter, attack the basket, spray it out for knock-down, feet-set threes. We allowed the shot making or missing to affect how we got back on defense. That’s one thing we have to continue to learn from this is we cannot let that impact the way we defend.”"
There were just so many signs that the team did not do this. And this might be as big a lesson of all: Good teams are good at the boring stuff. Even if some element of their game is not working or the defense takes it away. They are good at the constant drumbeat and basics of their system and sets.
Orlando struggled with that part of the story Monday. Dallas down by double digits at the half never lost that composure and kept attacking and waiting. As Orlando lost its grip offensively, it lost its grip defensively and never got it back.
This was simply not a game where the Magic could afford to let up. The Mavericks were always going to come for them, even trailing 13 at the half. The game was far from over.
"“The game takes 48 minutes. We’re still a very young team to learn to keep going even if we’re up and kind of kill a team in the second half. I think today a big part of why we lost our intensity and energy is because we didn’t play smart offensively. We turned it over too much and had stagnant possessions and it kind of deflates our whole energy.”"
The crazy part for the Magic was that despite giving up the lead in the third quarter. The Mavericks still only led by three. Orlando trailed by two with 5:31 to play. The Mavericks then went on a 9-0 run to put the game away. That is when the frustration really boiled over.
Orlando kept itself in the game through all the struggles but the team had already let go of the rope. Even with the game there for the taking, the Magic never really gave themselves a chance and never could do the things it knows it needs to stay in the game.
That is defend and move the ball. That is who this team is at the end of the day.
"“Listen, this sucks,” Mosley said after Monday’s game. “I don’t love it for our guys that we had to go through this. But it’s something we can learn from the midst of all this. The guys who step on the court know it will be the next man up and they’ll be ready to perform.”"
This is a hard lesson to learn for Orlando. The Magic looked nearly unbeatable in the first half with the way the ball moved. The Magic are hunting for that feeling again. That is a high this team can achieve.
Finding that consistently will be a challenge. Offense will be a challenge for this group. But things cannot get this bad or this frustrating to affect other parts of the game.