Building consistency is something that doesn’t come easy for every team.
Learning how to play together on a nightly basis, coupled with the intense grind of an NBA season wears on players, especially when they’re trying to adapt to a new coach, and therefore new system. As time wears on, that consistency begins to show itself, and the wins starting piling up.
For the Orlando Magic, that consistency, with a new head coach, is beginning to set in.
Coming into Saturday night’s tilt with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Magic had won five of their previous seven games, and showed signs of building something they’ve been searching for for years. Saturday night’s test against the best player in the world once again proved to be an easy one for the suddenly surging Magic.
“Good win,” said Magic head man Steve Clifford. “Really good second quarter, [and] third quarter, and then they downsized there at the end of the third. Like most teams, when they put that much skill on the court, they spread you out. We had a little trouble with that.
“Again, we ended up in the bonus early in the fourth. Except for that I thought our ball movement was good, the assists numbers would attest to that with 28 assists on 50 makes. We did a lot of good things. It’s a good start to this little two game homestand here.”
After the starters got off to a so-so start, the Magic’s second unit in, lead by Terrence Ross, Jonathan Isaac and Jonathon Simmons, gave the Magic a big spark.
Isaac, playing in his second game after a sprained ankle cost him six games, flew around the court defensively, showing off the potential that has many in the organization believes he has on that end. He blocked four of his career-high five shots in the quarter, including a pair on James.
The defense from Isaac helped spark the Magic’s offense, and send them to a 37 point quarter, and a nine point halftime lead.
“He was right in the middle of that in the second quarter,” said Clifford. “His individual defense is really good, and his team defense is terrific. His instincts off the ball, and also his understanding of different coverages and what we’re trying to do is so good.
“So, it’s good to get him back, and I thought he looked a lot better today than he did two days ago. Hopefully we can build him up again tomorrow and get back to his normal minutes.”
After the work Isaac did in the first half, Nikola Vucevic and D.J. Augustin took over in the second half.
Vucevic, who scored a season-high 36 on the night, scored 24 of those in the second half, and coupled with Augustin, who scored 11 of his season-high 11 in the half, picked apart the Lakers defense on seemingly every possession. The duo put the Lakers in pick-and-rolls, and tormented them, getting easy buckets in the painted area on almost every trip.
Augustin, who has taken a back seat from a scoring standpoint this season, did a little bit of everything, knocking down three three-pointers, and scoring at will at the rim.
“I thought his decision making, he was turning the corner and we really have the same ability to spread people out with Vooch and Mo as they do with Kuzma,” said Clifford of Augustin’s play. “A lot of times there’s room for penetration and it was all mostly high pick-and-rolls and he’s turning the corner and you know he got some layups and he also created some corner threes and kick outs, so he’s playing really well.”
While the win highlighted the good things the Magic have been doing of late, it also showed that the team still has some work to do.
Holding a big lead in the fourth quarter, the reserves allowed the Lakers to fight their way back into it, cutting the lead down to as few as 10 with just over three minutes to play. The starters were put back in and quickly pushed the lead back up to 17, but being able to close games like that out will be an important next step in the teams development.
“It’s important,” said Isaac when asked if closing games with a big lead is the next step for the team. “I think it’s just an NBA thing, when you’re up big, it’s really easy to relax. It happens all the time. We sustained it tonight, and we were able to get back up and finisht he game out.”
It’s no secret the Magic have been putting together some better play, and Saturday night once again showed that. They had guys make plays when they needed it, and put together a solid all-around team performance.
There’s still work to be done, but the work they have put in is beginning to pay off.