When shots fall, the game just seems to come easier for everyone.
The Magic’s 131 points were a season-high, and the second straight game they scored 130 points or more, marking the first time in franchise history they’ve managed that feat.
On top of the back-to-back games with 130 points or more, the team has scored at least 109 points in six straight games dating back to their win against the Washington Wizards on November 9th. That streak is the fourth longest in franchise history, with the team scoring that many in nine straight games from November 12th to December 2nd 1994.
After struggling offensively in their first eight games — they ranked 30th in points per game and field goal percentage, and 29th in three-point percentage — they’ve exploded. In nine games since, the Magic rank fifth in points per game, first in field goal percentage, and second in three-point percentage.
“I hope it’s who we can become,” said Steve Clifford when asked about the offensive explosion. “Obviously the biggest key is if we do it consistently. Definitely our purpose of play is good. We’re making a bunch of shots, and Vooch has just, you know, inside, outside, passing he’s just been playing at an incredibly high level.”
Over the last three games, Nikola Vucevic has been an absolute force for the Magic. Vucevic, who became the first Magic player since Dwight Howard in 2008 to post three straight games of at least 28 points and 10 rebounds, has averaged nearly 31 points, 10 rebounds and four assists per game.
His ability to impact the offense in multiple ways is one of the biggest things that’s helped the Magic in their recent stretch.
The play from Vucevic has been one of, if not the best stretches of his career, and his teammates have noticed it.
“I was thinking about it last night,” said Evan Fournier. “I mean, my first year here, he was dominating. Even with Scott [Skiles] he was playing really, really well. He started kind of slow but finished extremely well. It’s good to see him play like that. He had a rough couple of years and so now I feel that he’s playing with a lot of confidence and it’s good to see him like that.”
It’s not the first time someone on the team has raved about Vucevic’s ability to impact the offense in multiple ways. Since before the season started, Clifford has raved about his centers ability, even going as far as to say he’s a point guard in a five mans body.
“He has 28 [points], nine [assists] and three [turnovers] tonight,” said Clifford. “The other thing he does, and I didn’t realize this until it started to happen, and it’s really happened three times this week, when you have a bigger center, what teams will do, if you get a double digit lead, they’ll downsize.
“They’ll play more shooting on the floor, and what he has the ability to do is one, he can guard most of those guys. Two, he crushes it on the other end. He goes down there and posts those guys, whether it’s a play call or not. It happened in the Sixers game in the second quarter when they went smaller, and then these last night and tonight was a big part of the game too.”
One of the biggest things that’s allowed not only Vucevic, but the team as a whole to have success recently is their passing.
Over their past nine games, the Magic have averaged 27.8 assists per game, the most in the league over that period of time. The ball flying around the perimeter allows the Magic to spread out the defense, opening lanes for cutters to get east baskets. That ball, and player movement, was a key on Sunday night, as the Magic finished with 35 assists on 48 made field goals, and 60 points in the paint.
The biggest question surrounding the Magic now is if their level of play is sustainable.
Ask the players, and they all believe it is.
“Hopefully,” said Evan Fournier. “Like I said, as long as we keep getting better and playing the right way, the results are going to take care of themselves. We just have to make sure to respect the game plan, and we’ll go from there.”
Aaron Gordon, who scored 17 of the Magic’s first 22 points on the night en-route to a season-high 31 echoed what Fournier said.
“I don’t see why not,” he said. “We’re going to get better and we’re going to continue to get better as the year goes on.”
While the recent success is a welcoming sign, the tests are just going to get tougher.
After playing just two teams in the top-16 in defensive rating in their last nine games, the Magic will get three teams in the top-10 over their next five — Toronto, Denver, and Portland. They’ll also get to face the currently 17th ranked Golden State Warriors in that stretch.
Despite the early season struggles, the Magic have found a way to play that works for them. Now, it’s just a matter of putting that together against tougher competition, which is quickly approaching.