Orlando Magic finally unleashing their big identity

The Orlando Magic have long been joked about as a team full of size. To defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves, they had to unleash those big lineups. It is something they are doing more and more to greater success.
Jonathan Isaac helped shut down Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves at he Orlando Magic scored a major victory.
Jonathan Isaac helped shut down Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves at he Orlando Magic scored a major victory. / Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

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There are few teams that can matchup with the size the Minnesota Timberwolves present.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert are gigantic players who demand attention around the basket and can punish switches or anyone who thinks about playing small against them.

The Orlando Magic should be one of those teams that can match up with a team like that. It is the thing they have seemingly been building toward and pushing toward for years under president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman. Size and versatility would be this team's calling card.

The Magic may not have had the skill or the confidence to unleash the full potential of their size. It was too radical. It may still be too extreme.

No one can deny now how effective and potentially devastating it is. Among the many difficult decisions facing coach Jamahl Mosley might be the regular realization that his best chance to win on most nights, especially when protecting a lead, might be this mega lineup.

The Western Conference-leading Timberwolves certainly looked flummoxed going up against it.

Jonathan Isaac proved the key to unlocking this size for the Magic and creating a devastating defensive juggernaut that shut down the Timberwolves, helping the Magic erase an eight-point deficit entering the quarter on their way to a 108-106 win at Target Center.

Orlando closed the game with its jumbo lineup of Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Jonathan Isaac and Wendell Carter. It proved to be the exact kind of amorphous, rotating, defensively suppressing force everyone imagined it could be.

If there is a vision for what this team can be, this is it -- size at every position, the ability to switch seamlessly and relentless energy.

With Isaac finally healthy, the Magic are beginning to unleash this vision on the world. And the results are pretty clearly devastating.

"Just seeing how his national defensive instincts kick in," Jalen Suggs said after Friday's game. "Not that he is not thinking. He is just going off what he sees and feels. We kind of learn to play around that and pick up for him on crack-downs or free safety. Having him in the lineup is great. Watching him play, whether it is offensively, defensively, crashing the glass, getting blocks, or being solid for us, it's great to have him in the lineup for us and getting minutes."

The star of that group was undoubtedly Isaac. His addition to that starting group had the desired effect, aligning players in the correct matchups to handle Minnesota's size.

It slotted Jonathan Isaac onto Karl-Anthony Towns, Wendell Carter onto Rudy Gobert and Franz Wagner onto Anthony Edwards. That is just a lot of size, and it became difficult for them to handle.

Minnesota scored only 18 points in the final quarter, shooting 5 for 20 from the floor and 2 for 10 from three. The Timberwolves committed three turnovers and scored only four points in the paint. They lost their advantage to overpower a smaller team.

Isaac ended up playing the entire fourth quarter. It was impossible to take him out with how much he was devouring Towns on defense -- three points on 1-for-3 shooting in the quarter. There was no stopping that train and that momentum. Knowing Isaac is back there seems to increase everyone's intensity and willingness to pressure their man.

Isaac pulled down seven of his eight rebounds in the final quarter, helping secure several stops down the stretch. And he had the critical basket, making a tip-in with about 1:15 to play that gave the Magic some critical breathing room and a four-point lead.

It is always just undeniable how important and good he is defensively for the Magic. They locked in on that end to embrace their identity and suffocate the Timberwolves.

"Jonathan Isaac is an elite, elite, elite, elite defender," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday's game. "I think he just knows his timing. He knows he can guard bigs. He can guard smalls. He has great anticipation. His ability to protect the rim but also sit down and guard guys that are on the perimeter and contest all shots with his length."

The Magic have been going to this lineup more and more and the results continue to suggest they should stick with this "death lineup."

The group played only seven minutes together in Friday's game. But they were devastating, with a 100.0 offensive rating and an unfathomable 86.7 defensive rating. They won their minutes only by two points at 15-13. Still, the effects were evident.

The defense, though, was undeniably strong in that short time. And that has been the case over long stretches, too.

For the season, that group has played just 19 minutes together, with an offensive rating of 114.3 and a defensive rating of 107.3. Since Isaac returned from his injury on Jan. 13, that group has played 15 minutes with an offensive rating of 118.8 and a defensive rating of 78.1.

That should hint at how devastating this group's defensive potential can be. It hints at why the Magic have invested so much in size and versatility.

Of course, it still takes more to do that. And the Magic's offense still had its struggles -- it has its struggles overall. Still, the Magic made big shots and plays when it had to so that it could complete this comeback.

It was Wagner helping take over in the fourth quarter with seven points in a 28-point quarter for the Magic. But the team was balanced and pushed itself into the lead.

Playing with that lead likely made that "death lineup" so devastating. The Magic could play with a lead and lean on their defense to get stops rather than on having to make up ground to score.

And that is what should make the Magic continually challenging. Their size and their defense are tough to crack. And when everyone is dialed in and playing at this level, they are harder to crack.

Now the Magic just have to embrace this uniqueness and understand when to deploy it.

Everyone always pushes teams to play like everyone else and subscribe to an orthodoxy. Everyone was probably waiting for the Magic to return to Markelle Fultz and a more traditional lineup to close the game. Perhaps they would have if the Magic were behind and needed to pick up points.

But that lineup had its struggles, too. It allowed Gobert to roam the paint and hunt blocks because of Fultz's hesitancy to shoot from the perimeter -- he still had 10 points because of his willingness to drive and attack and his talent finishing around shot-blockers.

Fultz works because of his size, too. And that remains a trademark of this Magic team's philosophy.

Putting Isaac in that lineup is something else entirely. It embraces what makes this Magic team unique: Its size and versatility.

That was on full display to close this game. And it seems to make the Magic a much more devastating and dangerous team.

Paolo Banchero is an All-Star and just getting started. dark. Next. Paolo Banchero All Star 02.03.24

The league is starting to find this out. There will be adjustments to be made. But Orlando's size continues to be as much a calling card as anything else. And teams do not know what to do with it when it gets turned up to 11 like this.