The Playoffs are already exposing the Orlando Magic's weaknesses

The Orlando Magic's long-awaited return to the Playoffs was quickly greeted with a rude realization. This flawed Orlando Magic team has to confront their shortcomings to win. The Playoffs are a different animal.
The Orlando Magic got their introduction to the Playoffs as many of their overall weaknesses began to come to light in a rough-and-tumble Game 1.
The Orlando Magic got their introduction to the Playoffs as many of their overall weaknesses began to come to light in a rough-and-tumble Game 1. / David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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The Orlando Magic know they are going to be scrappy and fight. They know they are not going to quit on a game. They may have at least shown the Cleveland Cavaliers that as they fought and clawed their way back from an early 15-point deficit to cut the lead to five points midway through the third quarter.

The Magic held the Cavaliers to just five points through the first half of the third quarter.

If Orlando is one thing, it is persistent. And the team has fully embraced a defensive identity that will get after players and defend them physically on the perimeter.

But as the Magic tried to close that gap stop after stop. They just could not find the shots. It could have been a missed three in the corner from Gary Harris. It could have been Paolo Banchero driving through the lane expecting a call that was not going to come.

This is what the Playoffs are about. It is about the little things that can change momentum and change a game. In Game 1 of their series with the Cavs, the Magic could not find the shots they needed to keep pace.

If that sounds familiar it should be. Shooting remains the biggest issue the Magic face as they aim to succeed in the Playoffs. In Game 1, that weakness was front and center once again.

Orlando picked the absolute wrong time to have the worst shooting game of the season. The Magic picked the wrong time to miss 11 free throws. They picked the wrong time to get off to a bad start and have to climb uphill.

Pretty much every weakness everyone understood would get exposed in the Magic during the Playoffs was on full display against the Cavaliers in their 97-83 loss in Game 1 on Saturday. The poor shooting, the sometimes stagnant offense, the turnovers, the missed free throws. All of it came to roost.

Now it is on the Magic to figure out how to get around those or fix them to even up the series Monday.

"I definitely think we feel better going into Game 2," Paolo Banchero said after Saturday's loss. "It was a tight game even though we were down a little bit. We missed a lot of free throws. We didn't make threes. There is a lot we could have done better to make this a better game for us. Going into Game 2, just clean up on those things and come in with more confidence."

The Magic found themselves in a bit of trouble early on. The Cavaliers blitzed them for a 33-26 lead after the first quarter, making their first five threes. Cleveland led by as much as 12 in the first quarter. Orlando was going to have to climb uphill the entire way, which is a tough proposition for the team.

It did not help then that the Magic had their worst field goal percentage of the season, shooting 32.6 percent from the floor and staying just a tick better than 30 percent for much of the game.

The Magic could not find enough shooting to keep pace and make serious threats to the lead despite that slow start. Even with a defense shutting the Cavs down, the Magic were losing pace.

Cleveland missed 18 straight 3-pointers after a 5-for-5 start and was only 8 for 30 for the game. The Magic held the Cavaliers to just 40 points in the middle two quarters.

But Orlando scored only 32. Yes, the Magic lost ground despite incredible defense in the middle two quarters. That is just a difficult thing for any team to do and still come out with a victory in the end.

The simple answer may be to keep shooting, as Banchero said after the game. The Magic are not going to panic after a defeat. They have lost games like this before. But this is part of who this Orlando team is.

"We shot 32 from the field, 21 from three and 60 from the line and it still wasn't ever over until the last two minutes," Banchero said after Saturday's loss. "I think we defended very well. Offensively, we didn't play well. We just have to get our offense up with our defense and we'll be good."

The Magic were able to reduce the deficit to five with 8:24 to play in the third quarter. But neither team scored for nearly three minutes as the game hung in the balance. Gary Harris missed two of the five 3-pointers he missed (he was 0 for 5 and 0 for 6 overall) during that run. Any basket then might have tipped the game in the Magic's favor.

At a certain point, the Magic just have to make shots.

That has been a truth about this team all season. And the lack of 3-point shooting -- Orlando was 8 for 37 from three, marking the 22nd time this season the team shot worse than 30 percent from three -- was evident. The Cavaliers were able to congest the paint and force Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner to play in tight spaces.

That might explain why Wagner struggled to get himself going, making only 3 of his first 10 shots, including a floater when the Magic were down five in the third quarter. That might explain why Banchero had nine of the team's 12 turnovers (a relatively scant amount considering the team's usual turnover problems, but still led to 18 points).

The Cavaliers seemed unconcerned about the Magic's shooters causing the ball to stagnate and isolating the Magic's creators against a loaded-up defense. Orlando scored only 36 points in the paint and made 18 for 40 inside the lane.

There were a lot of things that are part of the Magic's normal formula to win. But these weaknesses were too much to overcome.

"Cleveland does a great job of packing the paint in and they do a great job of flying at shots," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday's loss. "A big portion of this is us continuing to be willing to step into those shots with confidence which our team will continue to do. It's the little things in these games. If you look at the stat sheet there are a lot of similar things going through it. Now it's got to be the little things that take over. It's making your free throws. It's coming up with the 50/50 balls in those situations."

That does not even get into the things the Magic could control like their foul shooting. They made just 19 of 30 foul shots. A better percentage would almost certainly have changed the momentum in the game.

Free throws have been a problem all season -- Orlando led the league in free throw rate (the ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts) but was 26th in free throw percentage -- only made those misses sting more.

In a game where points were at a premium and the Magic's offense was stuck in the mud, they gave plenty of them away. There was a lot the Magic know they can reel back.

"That's frustrating, but that's not how we look at it," Franz Wagner said after Saturday's loss. "We're not playing our best basketball and we're still in the basketball game. Obviously we need to hit shots to win the series. But we're confident we'll make it next game."

The question for the Magic is whether these are weaknesses the team can overcome in the short span of this series. Everyone understands the Magic need to find some shooting in the offseason.

But can they get more from Gary Harris (0 for 5), Jalen Suggs (1 for 7), Franz Wagner (2 for 6) and Paolo Banchero (2 for 7) to make due and win? Can the Magic get out of their own way and avoid the self-inflicted mistakes that repeatedly cost them? Can they get off to hot starts on the road and play from ahead?

These are the things that have burned the Magic all year. Some of them are fatal flaws that will need a serious correction in the offseason. Some of them are things the Magic have to be mature about.

They clearly have the poise and the defense to be competitive in this series. They feel optimistic that they played this poorly and still had a chance to win.

Next. Magic physicality 04.20.24. Orlando Magic will need to win the physical battle against Cavs. dark

But all their shortcomings are coming to the front in the Playoffs. Now that they are getting fully exposed, they have to face them and overcome them to advance.