Saturday night marked the fourth time in the early season the Orlando Magic sent a team to the free throw line 30 or more times. On top of that, the team has allowed all but one opponent to shoot 22 or more free throws, with the Los Angeles Lakers being the only team not to thus far.
While they've been able to overcome the other team parading to the line -- the Magic themselves have gotten to the free throw line 20 or more times in six of their 13 games -- Saturday night they simply were not able to.
Against a struggling Sacramento Kings team, the Magic sent them to the charity stripe 31 times, their second most attempts in a single game this season. While nearly half of them came from DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings man in the middle that the Magic had no answer for all night, the rest of the Kings got there more than the entire Magic team did combined.
Their inability to defend without fouling has been an issue the entire season, and it was undoubtedly one of the major things that cost them on Saturday night. Of course, the fact that they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn did them no favors either.
On top of their defensively struggles, and shots not falling, the Magic were once again unable to get to the free throw line consistently, attempting just eight free throws the entire game. Players' inability, and unwillingness to take contact has plagued the team, and continued to on Saturday night.
Following the game, coach Scott Skiles said that part of decreasing the opponents free throw attempts is defending without fouling. "We do have some habits that we're trying to clean up where, maybe we have a guy driving, and maybe have him in pretty good position, and just when he goes to shoot, we've lacked the discipline to be vertical, and sometimes we chop down, things like that," said the Magic's head man.
Skiles went on to say part of the Magic's problem on Saturday was the Kings switching everything, and giving them mismatches. "They're switching their three man onto our point guard, and vice versa, and bigs onto smalls and, so, the scarier thing is that we only shot eight free throws ourselves while they're doing that. Professional players, professional perimeter players, when bigger players are switching onto you, you've got to take advantage of that. We didn't do a good job of that at all tonight."
Nikola Vucevic, who once again didn't play in the fourth quarter, thinks it's a matter of being able to defend without fouling. "I think it's been an issue that we've been fouling a lot this season," he said. "We've got to do a better job defending other guys without fouling, and then for us, just trying to get to the rim as much as we can and draw fouls."
As both Skiles and Vucevic hinted at, the Magic need to find ways to still play their physical brand of defense, but not foul. They've had stretches where they've frustrated teams with strong defensively play, but ultimately bailed them out with late, silly fouls. There comes a point when they have to find the consistency defending not only physically, but smartly as well.
Moreover, the team needs to find ways to manufacture points at times, and that will come with getting to the free throw line. Evan Fournier has shown a strong driving and finishing ability, but is only getting to the free throw line just over three times per game.
Victor Oladipo, arguably the team's most efficient slasher, is shying away from contact more often than not, getting to the line just two times per game. Tobias Harris, who's scoring numbers are down this season, is only getting to the charity stripe three times per game as well.
With young, gifted athletes who have the ability to get to the basket seemingly at will, the Magic need to find ways to absorb contact and draw those fouls consistently. They can't continue to just run away from the contact, and expect to get to the line as much as their opponents are.
The work the team continues to put in on the defensive end will soon enough pay off, and help the team find ways to defend at the high level that they have been -- the Magic entered Saturday 10th in defensive rating, giving up 99.1 points per 100 possessions -- while lowering their fouls committed per game -- they currently rank 22nd, giving up 22.1 fouls per game.
On the other end, it'll be a matter of the team evolving and knowing that they'll have to take a hard foul sometimes for the betterment of the team. They're shooting free throws at a strong percentage -- they rank 12th in the league at 77.5% as a team, according to teamrankings.com -- but are second to last in free throw rate at 8.7 percent according to NBA,com.
With more work, the Magic will be able to find ways to lower the free throw discrepancy, which could, in turn, lead to more success on the floor.