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Magic are trying to shoot their way out of an early season slump, but results are lacking

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic did all that could be expected of them on the defensive end Tuesday night against the Sacramento Kings. The Kings, now winners of five of their last six games, came into the Amway Center Tuesday averaging just under 118 points per game (sixth in the NBA).

Orlando held Sacramento, who has played at the second-fastest pace in the NBA this season, to a reasonable 17 points resulting from fast-break opportunities (7 fast-break points in the first half). The Magic also limited the Kings to just eight three-point makes in the contest, well below their season average of 15 three-point conversions (40% as a team from three-point distance, 4th in the league thus far).

But the Magic still lost to the Kings at home (107-99), dropping their third consecutive game (and five out of their last six). I’m sure that getting back on defense to slow-down Sacramento’s transition attack, as well as getting out on the perimeter to defend their shooters, were both part of Coach Clifford’s scouting report/game-plan.

So why the lack of success? Well, it’s actually quite simple. It’s an issue that has plagued the Magic already this season. To be honest, it’s an issue that has plagued this roster for some time.

Orlando can’t find a way to put the ball in the hole. Believe me, it’s not due to a lack of trying.

The Magic haven’t been shy when it comes to letting it fly; they’ve fired 86 three-point attempts off in their last two games.

Fine, that’s the direction the league is heading in - so be it. Nope, not fine. I forgot to mention, only 21 of those 86 three-point attempts have gone in. It’s not one person that’s slumping either. It’s pretty much everyone.

“I thought our effort and defense was good,” Clifford said after the game. “To hold that team (to 107 points) is very good. Ultimately, we’re going to have to start shooting the ball better.”

“It’s (the offense) been an issue for us all year,” Nikola Vucevic said in the locker room after the game. “We’re going to have to figure it out really soon. Today in the league, teams are scoring at a high pace and you have to keep up. We have to find a way to be more efficient offensively.”

“We’re getting good looks for the most part. Tonight we had some wide open looks, a couple wide open three’s, we just didn’t make them,” Vucevic added. “Sometimes it goes like that. When the ball doesn’t go in the rim, sometimes you start over thinking it.”

One of the many guys on Orlando’s roster who is really struggling so far this season is Evan Fournier. Fournier went 3 for 13 from the field Tuesday night (1-6 3PTA’s), and sat down the stretch in the fourth quarter in favor of Terrence Ross. Fournier, a career 45% shooter (38% 3PT%), is now 40-107 through seven games this year (37% FG%, 27% 3PT%).

“With guys like him, it’s not like he’s had one good year,” Coach Clifford said of Fournier. “At the end of the day, I think his numbers will be where they were last year, if not better.”

“He’s getting good shots. Again, I’ll say this - it’s seven games. Over 82 games (in a season), everyone is going to go through a stretch where they don’t shoot the ball well.”

Vuecvic echoed Clifford’s sentiments regarding Fournier’s shooting slump.

“He just needs to find his rhythm. It’s a long season, you go through these periods where shots aren’t falling. He had a big game in Philadelphia. It’s only a matter of time, he’s a great shooter. We know he will come out of it, he’s works on (his game) everyday.”

Both Clifford and Vucevic referenced Klay Thompson after the game, pointing out that Thompson was struggling mightily with his shot before breaking the NBA record for three-point makes in a game Monday night.

The Magic don’t need Fournier to be Klay Thompson, nor am I suggesting that the organization expects that of him. But they do need him on offense for what they’re trying to do. He’s struggling, thus the Magic offense as a whole is sputtering.

Fournier is not the only one missing the mark in ‘18-’19 - far from it. Entering Tuesday’s game, D.J. Augustin was shooting 35% from the field on the season (career: 40.6%), Terrence Ross was shooting 37% (career: 42%), Jerian Grant was shooting 33% (career: 41%), and Jonathon Simmons was hitting a meager 26% of his attempts from the floor (career: 45%).

As a team, the Magic entered play Tuesday night ranked 29th in the NBA in field goal percentage, 27th in three-point percentage, 28th in Offensive Rating, and 29th in eFG% (effective field goal percentage). They got open looks against the Kings last night, but the Magic certainly didn’t make enough shots to improve upon any of those rankings whatsoever.

After the game, forward Aaron Gordon suggested that the team needs to keep channeling its energy on defense.

“Get stops. That’s something we can hang our hat on,” Gordon said in front of his locker. “From the defensive end, make plays that lead to offensive energy.”

Gordon is right, that’s probably the formula for success that best suits Orlando’s roster as currently constructed.

But this is the NBA, you still have to knock-down open shots. The Magic are going to keep firing away, as evidenced by their last two contests. And if they start converting those shots at a higher clip, to go along with the defensive effort they played with tonight, the wins will likely soon follow. All they can do is just keep shooting.