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Debut of Orlando’s “BIG” lineup showed serious promise, produced mixed results

The intriguing young core of Bamba, Isaac, and Gordon were on the floor together for the first time Tuesday night

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It happened rather inconspicuously at first, I didn’t even notice when all three were on the floor. But it happened, and slowly some murmurs across the media loge at the Amway Center became more definitive and poignant.

Mohamed Bamba, Jonathan Isaac, and Aaron Gordon were on the floor together in an NBA regular season game for the first time. Orlando’s young nucleus, affectionately dubbed the “Notorious B.I.G” trio by our Mike Cali, started the fourth quarter for the Magic (alongside Jerian Grant and Terrence Ross) Tuesday night against the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors.

Orlando’s franchise cornerstones shared the court together for a total of just over five minutes. The results, well they were mixed.

The good? Orlando’s five-man unit (which of course includes “BIG”) to begin the fourth quarter forced Toronto to commit six turnovers over the five-minute stretch while on the floor.

“I think that was the first time that group had been on the floor together (this season),” Gordon said in the locker room after the game. “I love it - I love that group on the floor. It’s stifling defensively, we’ve got to pick and choose our spots offensively. But I like what I saw defensively.”

In that 5:12, Toronto only managed to score seven points. The problem? Well I guess that brings me to the bad. While on the floor together, Orlando’s five-man group of Grant, Ross, Isaac, Gordon, and Bamba managed to score just two points over nearly half of the final quarter.

“The swing of the game for us was, I believe we scored two points in the first 6:10 of the fourth,” Coach Clifford said in his post-game conference after Tuesday’s game.

“Aaron was 18 (and 8) a game I believe last year,” Clifford stated when asked about his lineup on the floor to begin the fourth quarter. “Terrence Ross has been scoring very well, and you have a guy in Bamba who scores per minute. And you have great size on the floor, so I thought that was a better group than the group we played in the first half that struggled.”

The five-man group may have been the lineup that Clifford preferred, but the offensive cohesiveness was just not there yet. The Raptors were playing a four-guard lineup (Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown, and Danny Green) alongside Jonas Valanciunas opposite Orlando’s “BIG” unit, but the Magic couldn’t get the ball inside effectively enough to take advantage of their size differential on the floor.

“We’re going to work on it,” Terrence Ross said in the locker room when asked about how Orlando’s “BIG” lineup can generate more offense. “Teams are starting to play us different. It’s our job now to adjust and figure out how we can be more efficient with the new defenses teams are throwing at us. I think that’s one of the things we’re going to work on tomorrow.”

“You don’t need five guys on the floor that can score,” Clifford added while answering questions from the local media. “You need guys that you can play through, and that’s what we had (with the lineup on the floor to begin the fourth quarter). You have two go-to guys in that group - I guess I would strongly disagree with the assessment that (that’s) a group that can’t score.”

Coach Clifford is clearly confident and comfortable with this group, both offensively and defensively, moving forward. He firmly disagreed that Orlando’s BIG lineup is a group that “can’t score”, but the ugly Tuesday night was that they didn’t score - and that was a significant difference in the game. The “BIG” trio (alongside Grant and Ross) combined to shoot 1-10 from the floor before Clifford called timeout and went back to his starters.

“Both teams were playing really really hard,” Fournier mentioned while recalling what happened to Orlando’s offense to begin the final period. “I don’t think it was about ball movement (or anything). The execution could have been a little better, overall not too bad. Sometimes you just miss shots.”

All in all, Orlando’s initial fourth quarter group produced mixed results. They made a big difference defensively, struggled mightily offensively, and were outscored in summation by a very minimal margin (7-2).

It’s the first time this collection of former lottery-picks has been on the floor together, even though the Magic have now played 18 games, mostly due to an ankle injury Isaac suffered earlier in the year. You can’t expect positive results right away, things will take time.

However, you can bet that other players see the potential of a Bamba/Isaac/Gordon lineup. One of those players, Kawhi Leonard, got a first-hand look at Orlando’s trio Tuesday night.

“Very aggressive player, he’s gotten better over the years,” Leonard said of Gordon. “He’s got confidence in his game and he takes pride in his match-ups

Leonard has been a family friend of Bamba’s for many years. He’s been available to Bamba this season as someone who Orlando’s rookie can turn to for advice (Leonard has known Bamba since he was 12).

“I try to give him my advice of how I’ve been through it, what I did - just let him pick his own path,” Leonard said of Bamba. “He’s made it to the NBA. We all had high hopes for him, saying he was going to get here - I’m proud of him. He looks comfortable, he looks like he belongs here, he’s playing with confidence - shooting the ball well. Helping on the weak-side and blocking shots, he’s doing good.”

The Magic have a couple days off before they head out west for a six-game road trip against some of the top teams in the NBA. That leaves Orlando with some more time during practice to get Bamba, Isaac, and Gordon acclimated with playing alongside one another.
“We’ve got to score better - that group,” Gordon added. “The more we play together, that will become a lethal group. We definitely didn’t do it tonight, we’ve got to put the ball in the basket or its not going to work.”

Coach Clifford is confident this lineup will work out just fine. We know Orlando’s management feels the same way.

Yes Magic fans - BIG things are coming.