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Pregame Notebook: Slowing down Portland’s backcourt and offensive rebounding

The Magic will have their work cut out on the defensive end, while they continue to look for balance with offensive rebounding.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Slowing down Portland’s backcourt

There’s no secret that the tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are one of the most formidable backcourt duos in the league for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Thursday night the Orlando Magic will be tasked with trying to slow them down, and it won’t be an easy task. If anyone has the experience doing it this season, it’s the Magic, who have already faced the likes of Goran Dragic, Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving through four games.

While aforementioned three guards pose their own set of difficulties to defend, Lillard and McCollum are a different breed.

“The superior skill level, even for our league,” said coach Steve Clifford when asked about what made the duo so good. “They can both shoot, they both have mid-rang game, and they play very unselfishly. Lillard it’s his range, it’s his strength, and right now it’s his ability to get to the free throw line, which he’s improved over the last couple of years.

“McCollum doesn’t need a pick-and-roll to get a good shot, which, even for this league, there’s few guys that are like that. Most of the guys need the second guy. He’s so clever and skilled with the ball that he doesn’t.”

Finding a way to slow them down is going to be a challenge, but it won’t be left up to just one man, it’s going to take a team effort if the Magic want to keep Portland’s backcourt as quiet as possible.

“You’re not going to stop them with one guy,” said Clifford. “It’s going to start with being super smart with the guys who are defending them. Then you have to be on top of your team concepts.”

Despite the challenges that duo will pose, the Magic have the experience this season that can help them. When asked if the game plan was roughly the same tonight as it was against Irving and Walker previously, Clifford had this to say.

“No question. We do the same thing every time [in shootaround]. We’ll try to mix it up and keep them off balance as much as we can. It’s not easy. . . You’re not going to [defend them at a high level] with one scheme.”

Overall the challenge will be high defensively for the Magic, but it’s one that they’ll be as ready as possible for.

Strong offensive rebounding

Through their first four games, the Magic have been one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the league.

Those second chances have allowed them to, not only keep themselves in games, but also find two hard fought victories. In wins against the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, the Magic have done a good job of converting those key second chances, scoring 26 second chance points against the Heat, and 13 against the Celtics.

While many teams are pushing the pace through the roof early, coach Clifford believes that finding a balance with offensive rebounding is equally important.

“Offensive rebounding has been good for us so far,” he said. “The more you go to the glass, the less you’re back [in transition defense]. I think offensive rebounding, last year, became a more important stat in our league. For our team, I think it’s important that we’re able to do both, offensive rebound and get back, which you can. If you make good decisions when they shoot the ball, and this may sound simple, but it’s not. If you have a good chance to get it, and you’re a guy that can rebound, go get it. If you don’t have a good chance, sprint back. And that, simply put, is what we have to be better at.”

Overall finding the balance will be important as the Magic continue to search for their real identity, and flow in the early season. They have the athletes to be able to get out there and get offensive boards, but with pace going up, they have to find a way to limit those transition chances.

Should they strike that correct balance, the Magic could have something important on their side.