Win the paint, win the game is Orlando Magic's formula

The Orlando Magic are not a shooting team and they know it. Their whole identity is based on their ability to defend and score in the paint. It is a simple thing that everything grows from: Win the paint, win the game.
The Orlando Magic struggled to do the thing that is most necessary for them to win: The team must win the paint to win the game and they got outworked on the interior.
The Orlando Magic struggled to do the thing that is most necessary for them to win: The team must win the paint to win the game and they got outworked on the interior. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

Final. 112. 93. Magic Sixers Final 12.27.23. 92. 38

Jalen Suggs knows he sets the tone for the entire team really on both ends of the floor.

His energy on defense is the catalyst for a lot of things the team does defensively. His patience and composure on offense can be the thing that tips the team over the top, especially at the Amway Center. Suggs knows he is the heartbeat of this team.

Things started well for Suggs then with 11 points in the first quarter including the team's first seven. He scored it the way the Magic want their points scored -- off cuts and ball movement and kickouts and feet-set threes.

Going up against a Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers, there was certainly an opportunity to attack and be aggressive. There was a chance to live in the paint and find the easy baskets and pressure the Magic offense needed to survive.

That early run from Suggs seemed to suggest the Magic would make their living in the paint and find a way to break down the Sixers' interior.

But that movement and freedom dried up pretty quickly. The Sixers adjusted and locked in.

Suggs was not responsible for any turnovers in the first quarter, but he felt the weight of five turnovers in the opening 12 minutes. Orlando had some early life and then went into a shell, shooting 42.9 percent in that opening frame and then struggling to find much rhythm beyond that.

The Magic's mantra has to be to win the paint to win the game. That is the sign their offense is healthiest and the way they can create the kind of 3-pointers they are capable of making.

It is what the Sixers closed off consistently throughout a 112-92 victory at Kia Center on Wednesday. Orlando could not find its way into the interior consistently and struggled to take advantage of Embiid's absence.

Philadelphia won the paint 58-40 and won the game. It was really quite that simple.

"I think in the second half, they were a lot smarter and a lot more disciplined keeping their eyes on the ball," Suggs said after Wednesday's loss. "And then, not giving up free and easy ones. Which I think is contrary to what we did giving up easy buckets and free buckets and not making them have to work for their scoring on the offensive end."

The Magic know they will struggle from three. While they want to remain confident and keep shooting those threes, that is not their game.

Orlando made only 9 of 33 threes in the game and missed plenty of open shots in the game. But it was also fairly clear the team was pressing on some outside shots with their inability to score consistently.

Philadelphia spent a good chunk of the game blitzing screens and dropping into the paint to try to invite jumpers. That proved to be effective with the Sixers crowding every drive to the basket and forcing tough shots, deterring a drive to the basket in the first place or forcing a turnover.

There were a lot of turnovers based on lazy passes and players trying to do too much. But a lot of that came from the Sixers being able to close gaps.

Here the Magic have to reset their offense a few times and Cole Anthony tries to drive through what he thinks is an open lane. But it is closed down quickly and ends up with a steal from Robert Covington.

It certainly helps too that Robert Covington is unconcerned with Anthony Black in the corner. While the Magic's lack of shooting is not necessarily a problem for not making threes, it is a problem in congesting the paint.

And teams are figuring out how to overload the paint and force the Magic's stars into tougher jumpers.

There were similarly a lot of plays like this one where the Sixers extended their defense to trap or blitz screens and force difficult passes or slow down the Magic's downward momentum. They would then be able to use their size to recover and force Banchero into tougher jumpers like this one.

Paolo Banchero felt that frustration the most, making only 6 of 21 shots and 1 of 8 from beyond the arc for his 19 points. He did get seven free throws, but he was frustrated with the physical play the officials let go.

Everyone had those struggles throughout the game. Outside of Suggs' 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting and Franz Wagner's 24 points on 8-for-16 shooting, no one was able to get much going. The ball simply did not move with just 17 assists on 31 field goals as Orlando could not figure out the defense.

"They just showed their help early," Mosley said after Wednesday's loss. "I thought they did a really good job of plugging the paint and our ability to navigate that. We did a great job early on finding cuts, finding movements and again, you have to give them credit for recognizing the game plan and executing it too at a high level."

Philadelphia outworked Orlando in a lot of ways to win that battle on the interior. The Sixers had 12 offensive rebounds for 16 second-chance points, winning that part of the paint battle too. They were first to a lot of loose balls and recorded 13 deflections -- to just six for the Magic.

Philadelphia was just significantly more active.

Orlando's whole offensive game is built on its ability to get into and defend the paint. The team averages 55.9 points in the paint per game after Wednesday's loss, the second-most in the league. It is the best way the team has to score consistently.

On the other end, the Magic give up 47.1 points in the paint per game, ninth-fewest in the league. This is a team that wins the paint and the bigger the team's advantage on the interior, the better chance they have of winning.

To see the Sixers parade into the lane with ease throughout the game is a statement of the 76ers' will to win and make right after their loss Monday in Miami and the Magic's sometimes lax defense. Orlando left the door open for Philadelphia to blow by and get to the basket.

"Just being able to hang your hat on the defensive end," Mosley said after Wednesday's game. "We say it all the time and that's going to be our calling card. You have to recognize that shots aren't going to fall, but then you can't beat yourself by turning the ball over. We talk about detailing our work and tonight, we didn't do that."

Still, Orlando had its chance to win. It got a brief spark of life in the fourth quarter with back-to-back threes off beautiful drives, kickouts and ball reversals to set up Paolo Banchero and Caleb Houstan to make it 86-83 with 9:37 to play.

But Philadelphia answered with two threes of its own to extend the lead back out to nine that included the 16th turnover on a Caleb Houstan offensive foul. Orlando got outscored 16-2 in the final four minutes to make the deficit larger than the game.

The Sixers just kept attacking and the Magic could not find their way through.

The Magic will continue to struggle to shoot from three. Teams will continue to clog the lane and dare Orlando to win over the top. But the magic have to be just as determined to attack the basket and attack the lane.

Next. Magic foundation 12.26.23. Orlando Magic are building their foundation this season. dark

That is this team's identity and the biggest key to victory. Everything starts there. And someway, somehow, the Magic need to get to the basket and win the paint every game.