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Magic vs. Clippers preview: Orlando’s struggling defense faces L.A.’s high-powered offense

Can the Magic bounce back from their dreadful second half performance against the Wolves on the fourth game of their six-game road trip?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic held a 19-point advantage on Friday night in Minnesota by playing some of their best offensive basketball of the season, with 26 made baskets on 34 shots with 15 assists.

And that’s when everything fell apart.

So, has been the story this season with the Magic. Alongside brilliant performances against the Raptors, Lakers, 76ers, Spurs and Celtics, comes dreadful losses to the Hornets, Heat, Spurs, Pacers, Nuggets, and the Los Angeles Clippers, who defeated the Magic soundly on November 2nd (my birthday), 120-95.

Nothing encapsulates the season thus far for the Magic than the performance on Friday night. After the brilliant start to the game, the Magic floundered, offering just 16 of 54 shots (29%) for the remainder of the contest and ending up on the wrong side of a frightful 36 point swing.

“We were just lazy, undisciplined and soft,” said Magic forward Aaron Gordon. “We didn’t have it tonight on the defensive end and it’s not OK at this point in the season.”

Gordon was tough on the defense and with good reason. But as has often been the case with the squad this season, it was the offense that surrendered the bulk of the ineptitudes.

The Magic stopped moving the ball, and as Frank Vogel said throughout the course of last season:

“This team doesn’t have 1-on-1 offensive playmakers.”

True, Vucevic has been a splendid revelation, but this offense thrives on shots created by action and off-ball movement. Too often (especially with Augustin off the floor), the Magic begin their all-too-familiar ball watching, and lose what makes them effective.

But with the fourth game of yet another six-game road trip comes the opportunity for redemption. And what better opponent to face than the one who beat them soundly earlier this season.

The Matchup

Magic fans will recognize Tobias Harris, who is enjoying himself a fringe All-Star caliber season with 21 points and eight rebounds on an astounding 50%/40%/89%.

The offense isn’t just relegated to Harris, however. The Clippers’ scoring comes from everywhere, with Gallo (20 points, six rebounds), Lou Williams (18 points), Montrezl Harrell (16 points, seven rebounds) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10 points), keeping pace.

And the number of talented players doesn’t end there. The Clippers carry promising young talent in Tyrone Wallace and Sindarius Thornwell, as well as veteran leadership with Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Mike Scott and former Magic big man, Marcin Gortat.

The fourth-highest scoring offense in the NBA gets it done with efficiency (3rd) and from the free-throw stripe (1st). They’re a deadly three-point shooting team (3rd) and yet they are just 29th in three-points shots attempted per game. They prefer to attack through the paint, where they average a seventh-best 51.4 points.

But the 22-16 Clippers are a bit deceiving. They carry but a +1.2 average scoring margin despite being six games over .500. And their dreadful defense is the direct cause of that:

“We’ve gotten off to some tough starts, and I just thought it was our defense,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “With the way we can score, when we defend, it’s hard for anyone to beat us.”

This quote came after the Clippers win on Friday night in which they gave up 67 second half points to the 9-31 Phoenix Suns.

If the Magic are to stand tall on Sunday afternoon, they will need to attack the Clippers where they are weakest:

  • The paint (allow 51 points per game)
  • Transition (Allow 16 points per game)
  • Second chance points (Allow 12 offensive rebounds per game)
  • And as Clifford said above, the absolute most important thing for the Magic is to keep their offense in constant motion and keep the rock moving.

If the Magic can give new life to their offense and do enough to limit the Clippers’ electric scoring threats from every position, they may give themselves a chance.

After all, it won’t be the first time the Magic have taken down an opponent as a massive underdog. But it will be the first time the Magic have defeated the Clippers in their last ten tries.

Los Angeles Orlando
Pace: 100.9 (9th) Pace: 97.0 (26th)
ORtg: 113.6 (6th) ORtg: 106.2 (27th)
DRtg: 112.4 (23rd) DRtg: 109.9 (14th)
Projected Starters:
Los Angeles Orlando
PG - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander PG - D.J. Augustin
SG - Avery Bradley SG - Evan Fournier
SF - Danilo Gallinari F - Jonathan Isaac
F - Tobias Harris PF - Aaron Gordon
C - Marcin Gortat C - Nikola Vucevic

Who: Orlando Magic (17-21) at Los Angeles Clippers (22-16)

When: Sunday, January 6th, 3:30 PM EST

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Injuries: Los Angeles: Luc Mbah a Moute (out, knee); Orlando - Jonathon Simmons (probable, ankle), Timofey Mozgov (out)