After practicing with the Orlando Magic earlier in the week, and going through the team's shootaround on Friday morning, former number-two pick Victor Oladipo's returned to the Magic's lineup Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Oladipo, who had missed the past six weeks with a sprained MCL and a broken bone in his face, played 25 minutes, finishing with 13 points, three rebounds, and two assists off the bench. While his stat line might not jump off the page, the team felt his impact almost immediately.
The Magic, who started the game extrememly flat, got the boost they desperately needed when Oladipo checked in for the first time. In his first stint, Oladipo brought much-needed energy to the table, helping the Magic whittle the Bucks' lead down to just five heading into the second quarter.
In the second half, Oladipo checked in early to guard a hot Brandon Knight, and almost immediately shut him down. After Knight went for 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the first half, Oladipo was able to hold Knight to just five points on 1-of-5 shooting from he field in the second half.
Following the game, Oladipo was in great spirits, saying, "[it] just felt good to play basketball again." Oladipo also said that his vision with the protective facemask is "fine", adding that he just needs to knock off some rust. The Indiana product also said that he had no timetable for how long he would have to wear the mask, and that he would listen to the doctors.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn raved about Oladipo's defense, saying it "was good to have." Vaughn also talked about how Oladipo have to continue to be out there and be around guys to understand some of their tendencies, but finished by saying it was a "good first night for him."
Oladipo's return was an important one, and his teammates recognized that too. Nikola Vucevic said that having Oladipo back is "great" and that he's a "huge part of the team." He also said that Oladipo brings so much to the court, especially energy wise. "He's always playing hard, flying around, great at driving the ball, making plays for others, and finishing defensively. It's great to have him back," said Vucevic.
Oladipo's return could be the spark that the Magic need. Even with Evan Fournier's strong play early in the season, it's almost impossible to replace someone like Oladipo on both ends of the floor. His return, which arrived sooner than most people expected, is a very welcoming one, and should have a huge impact on the Magic going forward.
Points in the paint
From the start of the game, the Bucks attacked the paint, getting there almost every trip down in the first quarter. 24 of their 30 first-quarter points came in the paint, and 42 of their 49 in the first half. The Magic's defense was like Swiss cheese out there, allowing someone in every open lane.
Then, the second half came around.
After halftime, Milwaukee was forced to settle for more jumpers, scoring only 14 points in the paint. So what happened? What did the Magic do in the second half to limit the Bucks' chances in the paint?
Orlando began getting up into the Bucks more, and forcing them to settle for jump shots. Oladipo slowed down Knight, and the Magic's bigs did a better all-around job of not allowing dribble penetration. There was a slight slip-up in the fourth quarter, when Giannis Antetokounmpo got into the paint for a few easy dunks, but it wasn't enough to open things back up for the team as a whole.
Vaughn was happy with the adjustments his team made at halftime, and said it was good they play two halves. The Magic tightened up overall, forcing the Bucks into a few shot-clock violations, and it showed with their defensive performance.
Protecting the paint has been an issue for the Magic multiple times this season, and it's going to need to get better and quick. With teams like the Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, and Los Angeles Clippers coming up, they'll have to find ways to stop guards and big men from dominating in there if they want to continue to win games. They'll get a boost whenever Kyle O`Quinn, their best rim protector statistically, returns, but with no timetable set for him, they'll have to find ways to slow teams down with the personnel that they have at their disposal.