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Hawks 94, Magic 88: Failing to take flight

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Orlando lose the battle, but gain some ground in the (tank) war

NBA: Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In a game that both teams were probably better off losing, the Magic managed to consistently enough be their own worst enemy in ensuring they ended up on the wrong side of the ledger. Despite committing only 5 turnovers for the game and limiting the opposition to just one single free throw attempt, Orlando were unable to put away the Hawks. They fell behind late in the first quarter during a 28-9 Atlanta run that carried over into the second, after which they were never quite able to catch up. Tepid shooting and a lack of ball movement were again the hallmarks of this performance, and the team now looks likely to end the season on a winless streak of some length.

Let’s dive in and pick apart some of the more revealing elements of this one.

A mired offense

The Magic came out after an incredibly poor offensive showing against the Bulls on Friday and picked up right where they left off. They shot just 25% from the floor for the first quarter, and even a relatively hot streak buoyed by some Mario Hezonja threes and Bismack Biyombo finishes closer to the hoop only managed to drag the team’s conversion rate to 34% by the end of the first half. This clip is where it stayed at for the remainder of the game.

Beyond the lousy shooting, the biggest problem appeared to be a lack of purpose and direction. Most Magic possessions consisted of either a simple two-man game or players trying to create out of isolation, and there was very little off-ball movement that the Hawks were forced to track. Tellingly, Orlando struggled to do even the simple things, like getting passes onto the chest of open shooters. When you add poor spacing, a lack of screen work for ball handlers, and forced jumpers out of rhythm it results in an ugly performance.

A tired defense

Defensively Orlando suffered from a general lack of energy and urgency. Pleasingly Jonathan Isaac and Wes Iwundu proved to be quite sticky when switching assignments on the wing, but outside of this there were very few bright spots for the Magic when it came to stopping the opposition. The Hawks feasted in the paint, racking up 28 points from here in the first half and 50 for the game. They were also able to supplement this with regular fast break opportunities which, to add insult to injury, were a result of the Magic’s inability to put the ball in the basket.

Worryingly, the team was also slow to adjust to the Hawks bigs who were able to stretch the floor beyond the arc, and they gave up - perhaps by design - a lot of uncontested mid-range jumpers that Atlanta took advantage of during the second quarter. It’s probably not entirely fair to single anyone out but Nikola Vucevic offered particularly poor resistance, and along with Aaron Gordon was probably the most obvious example of a player regularly only giving partial effort.

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.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

First star: Jonathan Isaac — A career high 15 points, 4 boards, 3 triples, a steal and a block, all in just 20 minutes of on-court action. He didn’t always finish the play but he consistently got into the right spots and hustled the whole way.

Second star: DJ Augustin — Had a poor start to the night but was able to get something going for the Magic in the pivotal third quarter. The team was at its best when he played the part of competent director.

Third star: Mario Hezonja — it was one of those typical Hezonja performances that featured a blend of great and baffling. However, his shooting was a welcome sight for a scoring-starved squad, while his court instincts showed up in the box score in the form of defensive hustle stats.

With loss number 54 now in the books, the Magic turn their sights to the upcoming tussle with the Knicks. Be sure to join us back here at OPP for our coverage of the contest.