Go anywhere with the Orlando Magic and you will inevitably run into the same problem, the same dilemma, the same question, the same issue, the same talking point.
It is unavoidable at this point. A need so clear and so frustratingly ignored that it now feels unavoidable. There are only so many ways the team can hide it. Especially late in games. And everyone knows it.
The Magic are incapable of reaching their potential knowing full well what they are missing.
Teams are making a bet now. And even when they lose that bet, they are coming out on top.
It is unavoidable at this point. Not even Jamahl Mosley could avoid it after the Orlando Magic’s bitterly disappointing 124-104 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday. Everyone can see what other teams are doing: packing the paint and daring the Magic to shoot.
"“Yes, I think that is a lot of team’s gameplan,” Mosley said after Tuesday’s game when asked whether teams are daring the Magic to shoot over the top of the defense. “We’ve always talked about guys have to shoot the shots when they are open. I think one thing that happened tonight as they were baiting it, we stopped moving. The shots are not the problem necessarily, it’s that we stopped moving into those shots.”"
The Magic were more than willing to shoot Tuesday night. It is that they settled that everything fell apart. Orlando struggled to get to the interior and many of the things that are a key part of their formula to win just did not happen consistently.
The Orlando Magic continue to struggle with their 3-point shot as teams sink and bet that the team will not be able to come through with enough shots to win. It is an unavoidable weakness this season.
The Magic took a season-high 46 3-pointers and made a season-high 16 3-pointers. It was an odd thing to see as the Magic seemed content to hoist threes as they struggled to get into the interior.
This is not who the Magic are, of course. They are not a 3-point shooting team.
Settling for that many threes, especially against a 3-point heavy team like Brooklyn (it made 19 of 39 3-pointers for the game) was going against the formula the Magic need to win.
"“I think overall in general we are figuring out our identity as a team,” Franz Wagner said after Tuesday’s game. “We are hanging our hat on the defensive end and moving the ball offensively. I think we’re really hard to stop in transition. Just that identity and being able to execute that every night as we get more games together is going to help a lot. I think we’ve improved a lot from last year.”"
Orlando is a team that wants to get pressure on the rim. To see the Magic get outscored 52-36 in the paint was a sure sign this team was going to lose. Especially considering how loose and and poor the Magic were at protecting the ball.
Orlando did not give its usually stout defense a chance to make up ground with 16 turnovers for 27 Brooklyn points and 31 fast-break points. The Magic had to chase the game even when they eventually took the lead in the second quarter and into the halftime locker room.
No doubt, shooting kept the Magic in the game. But that is not what will ever win this team games. It is a clear weakness and for whatever gains the Magic made from deep, that is not sustainable for this team.
And every opponent knows it.
In the decisive fourth quarter, the Nets won 36-18 holding the Magic to 2-for-13 shooting from deep while the Nets made 7 of 10. There is no way the Magic can make that up.
"“The game was a little closer than what it ended up being,” Wagner said after Tuesday’s game. “A lot of turnovers and they got a lot of open shots in transition. I got to look at the rest of the game but I think offensively we lost our flow a little bit.”"
The turnovers were an issue throughout the game. A lot of Orlando’s passes were simply lazy and that certainly interrupted any rhythm the team had. But the team also was trying to force its way inside. The team really could not find that path to the interior.
In critical moments with Paolo Banchero or Franz Wagner trying to initiate the offense, they see a wall in front of them. That has been how a lot of fourth quarters have gone for this team.
Orlando now has the third-worst net rating in the fourth quarters this year at -11.1 points per 100 possessions. That includes the third-worst offensive rating in fourth quarters at 97.9 points per 100 possessions.
The Magic have had trouble finishing games all year long. And the fourth quarter Tuesday was just another example of how the team struggles to rise to the occasion. And it was yet another example of how teams are simply packing the paint and daring Orlando to beat them from the perimeter.
This is a team that wants to do the right thing and wants to attack. And that is only making things more difficult as they find less room to make the right play or the right pass.
It is telling then that Orlando averages only 50.8 points in the paint for the season (13th in the league) but only 10.8 per game in the fourth quarter (23rd in the league).
It is obvious what the Magic need to loosen things up and it is just not on the roster. That is not who this team is meant to be. And so they find themselves caught in a vice grip as teams constrict space around them.
There are some things the Magic can do. Their offense gets undoubtedly stagnant in these situations, especially when the pressure increases. Mosley wants players to cut and occupy the defense that way to create space for the ball to move inside-out.
That is easier said than done. What obviously cannot happen is the turnovers that compound and make that task even harder.
"“We talk about not beating ourselves,” Mosley said after Tuesday’s game. “Sixteen turnovers for 27 points is not going to get the job done. That’s just a very simple fact. You turn the ball over 16 times for 27 points and lose by 20, you aren’t giving yourself a chance there.”"
The turnovers were inexcusable for this team. It did give them no chance and turned the game into an untenable track meet. Orlando has to slow the game down and keep the pace low to give its offense a chance.
The frustration is building. And teams are not going to change how they play. It is obvious what this team’s weakness is and less obvious where the answers are on this roster.
The Magic are stuck until they can figure out how to shoot. Even at this early stage, it is clear that this will keep holding the team back. And make nights like Tuesday all the more possible and frustrating.