The under-manned Magic came into Sacramento on Friday night and, as should have been expected, struggled mightily. With three of the five opening night starters out injured the team was forced to field some patchwork lineups that predictably featured little fluency and fluidity on offense. Defensively things weren’t much better, with Orlando finding it immensely difficult to keep the Kings off the offensive boards and giving up an absolute wealth of points in the paint (48 for the game). Garrett Temple emerged again as bona fide Magic-killer, dropping 23 points on 70% shooting from the field, and the Kings largely coasted after halftime on their way to a six point final margin. This was a game that will quickly — and thankfully — fade into NBA obscurity.
Let’s dive in and pick apart some of the more interesting elements of this one.
This section is going to be short, because the Magic sadly didn’t provide much material to work with. That being said, there were a couple of pleasing flashes of individual excellence: Mario Hezonja’s steal and reverse-flush and-one; Jonathan Isaac’s pair of corner threes; the energy and effort exhibited by Jonathon Simmons all night long. However, the true good from tonight comes from the extra number in the loss column; the Tank Wars are real this year, and every L gives the Magic slightly better odds in the 2018 lottery. Silver linings.
For long stretches of the game you’d be forgiven for thinking that the players on the Magic had never met each other before. Forced lineup changes were always going to ensure that tonight was a discombobulated affair, but the amount of possessions that featured little ball movement and ended with someone attacking out of isolation was still surprising. Orlando was simply unable to get much going offensively, and racked up just 17 assists for the night. At times when the team did decide to embrace the extra pass they took it comically too far, giving up wide open looks and forcing passes that instead jammed someone else up. To say it was a rough outing for the Magic’s O would be an understatement.
This won’t surprise anyone, but the nominee here is the entire first half. The Magic only put up 36 points across the game’s first two quarters, tying their previous low for points in a half this season. They shot a frigid 37.5% from the field, committed nine turnovers, and basically failed to run anything that looked like a functional NBA offense. DJ Augustin was so bad that he ceded minutes to Shelvin Mack, who had four giveaways, shot 2 for 8 from the field, and generally displayed some very questionable decision making. Amazingly the Kings were somehow worse in terms of accuracy and ball security, but were at least able to supplement their scoring with eight trips to the free throw line and seven offensive rebounds (compared to three and two respectively for Orlando). All in all, this might have been the least inspired half of basketball Magic fans have witnessed all season.
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Jonathon Simmons — It couldn’t be anyone else. Sure he regularly demonstrated his alarming tendency to pound the rock into oblivion and freeze out his teammates, but his 25 and 5 paced the team while his intensity at both ends was about the only thing keeping the Magic in the game.
Second star: Jonathan Isaac — this is admittedly a stretch, but the pickings are slim. Isaac had a poor shooting night, but he at least showed zero hesitation when catching the ball in rythym and was rewarded with a couple of deep makes from the corner. We already know he’s going to be good defensively, but how he develops with the ball in hand will be the factor that determines his ceiling as a player.
Third star: the pop in Hezonja’s legs — Let’s be clear: Mario did not have a good game tonight. But he looked spry, quick and bouncy, particularly in the open court, and provided more evidence to suggest that he had to be carrying a injury last year when he looked athletically outmatched.
Honestly, there’s not much to write home about after this one. Instead, the Magic will look to quickly regroup and turn their attention to tomorrow night’s tilt in L.A. against the Clippers. We’ll see what a new day brings.