Clifford against his old team
For the first time as a head coach, Steve Clifford will face off against the team that he formerly led.
Over the course of five seasons, Clifford led the Charlotte Hornets to a nearly .478 winning percentage, making the playoffs in two of those year, losing in the first round in both trips. Clifford brought the Hornets back from the dead, leading them to a 43 win season in his first year, just two years removed from them winning a franchise-record low of seven games.
“I loved my time there,” said Clifford at the Magic’s Friday morning shootaround. “I have good relationships with a lot of players and a lot of the people. The people in the city were great to me, and the first four years, frankly, I’m very proud of. Last year . . . we should’ve played better.”
Much like the start of his tenure in Charlotte, Clifford is being tasked with taking over a struggling team looking to find its footing. The Hornets had won a combined 28 games in the two years prior to Clifford taking over as their coach, and Orlando won just 25 games last season.
The familiarity with the franchise, and it’s players, could come in handy for Clifford and the Magic on Friday night. Having coached seemingly their entire roster, Clifford will know the tendencies of the players, which could lead to more improved game planning for the Magic in an important early season divisional game.
Slowing down Kemba Walker
Friday night won’t be an easy one for the Magic’s defense.
Facing one of the best point guards in the league in Kemba Walker, Orlando’s defense will get a big, and much needed early test. Walker, a two-time All-Star, scored a league high 41 points on opening night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
In the past against the Magic, Walker has made things look easy, scoring 29 or more seven times, including two 40+ point games.
“I think you have to try to keep him off balance,” said coach Clifford when asked about slowing down the Hornets star. “He’s just too good to, if he knows what you’re going to do, he’s just evolved into a guy that has a plan on every angle pick-and-roll, he knows who’s guarding him, he knows who the big is. He’s a legitimate All-Star level pro player.
“I want to say this the right way. . . You’re not looking at a guy who’s 6-foot-6, with all this athleticism. He’s fast and quick, but he plays a thinking mans game. If he knows what the coverage is going to be, you’re not stopping him or you better hope he’s gonna miss. We have to be able to change things up.”
The Magic will have to find different schemes, and different players, to throw at Walker throughout the game to try and slow him down. One of the biggest problems will be Walker’s elite speed, which could get the Magic in trouble if he starts going down hill, or is playing off the ball.
The matchup with Walker at point could lead to a few more minutes for Jerian Grant, who could, potentially, disrupt some of the All-Stars effectiveness with his good length.
If the Magic want to notch their second win on the early season, slowing down Walker will be one of the biggest keys.