It’s the final dress rehearsal for the 2019-2020 Orlando Magic.
With the regular season now less than a week away, the Magic wrap up the preseason on Thursday against the Miami Heat, the team that will be their top threat in the Southeast Division. After starting the preseason 3-0, with all three wins coming on the road, the Magic have dropped the last two in ugly fashion on their home court. While wins and losses hold little to no significance in the preseason, an encouraging performance would alleviate some concerns as the Magic head into the regular season.
“We definitely want to finish on a high note,” Aaron Gordon told reporters. “Especially...they’re in the division. It’s a game we want to be able to set the tone with. We just want to keep building habits, that’s the biggest thing, so come first game we know exactly how we want to play.”
Added Terrance Ross: “We’ve had ups and downs but that’s essentially what’s going to happen during the year. We all have the right mindset of going forward and getting better. We still have a little time to tune some things up so I think we’ll be fine.”
Like the Magic, the Heat also won their first three games of the preseason, with two remaining.
Here are some things to watch for in the Magic’s preseason finale:
The Magic have struggled mightily in their halfcourt offense. That, Steve Clifford said, even includes their first two games where they scored 125 and 115 points respectively, with a bulk of their offense generated off their defense.
The Magic offense is shooting just 41.7 percent in the preseason, which is fifth worst in the league, and has an offensive rating of 97.5, third worst in the league. Again, its not so much the preseason stats that are alarming but the performance itself. The Magic offense, which has been missing key components (see below), has been stagnant when executing without proper ball movement. Orlando faces a Heat defense that in three games has not yet allowed an opponent to reach 100 points.
Jonathan Isaac’s advice for helping Orlando regain its offensive rhythm? “I think maybe one more pass, one less dribble.”
One of the Magic’s expected strengths this season is their continuity. The core returns intact, including a starting lineup that combined to miss just 14 games all of last season. That hasn’t been the case this preseason, with both Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier (and Terrence Ross) out with injuries.
In five preseason games, Steve Clifford has used four different starting lineups, with Mo Bamba and Michael Carter-Williams getting the nod in different variations.
“You have to be able to play without you’re better offensive players,” Clifford said. “These guys aren’t going to play 82 games.”
Clifford said that Vucevic and Ross, both recovering from ankle sprains, are expected to play and that he hopes to get them as many minutes as possible. Fournier, suffering from back spasms, is questionable. Fournier said he doesn’t think his back trouble is a result of playing in the World Cup this summer, but perhaps from being a new father.
“That’s like my fourth time coming back with a busy summer,” Fournier told reporters. “It’s never been a problem before....I was thinking maybe it’s because I keep picking up my son all day long. No, I’m serious. I was thinking maybe that’s a reason why. I’m always bent over. I don’t know. I have no idea.”
One of the main factors in the Magic’s offensive struggles - and likely a direct result of the lineup changes and deep rotation - is the abundance of turnovers they have committed. The Magic, averaging 16.8 turnovers per game this preseason, had 18 turnovers in their win over the Hawks but managed to overcome their mistakes by way of their defense. That wasn’t the case in lopsided losses to the Celtics (21 turnovers) and the Sixers (18 turnovers). The Magic have a turnover percentage of 16.8 percent (up from 13.3 percent in the regular season last year), which is higher than it should be for a team that plays at one of the slowest paces in the league and thus produces fewer possessions. Again, it’s preseason. But being the last game before they start to count, you’d like to see fewer mistakes.
In their last two games combined, the Magic have been outrebounded 113 to 78. Not good. The return of Nikola Vucevic, along with the team shooting better than 30 percent from the field, should help.
Magic fans are expected to get their first look at Jimmy Butler in his new wardrobe. But stealing the spotlight so far this preseason for the Heat has been Tyler Herro, a potential target of the Magic’s in the 2019 NBA Draft before being selected three picks ahead by Miami. The shooting guard out of Kentucky is leading Miami in scoring this preseason at 16.3 points per. He is shooting 54.5 percent from the field, including 53.3 percent from three on five attempts per, for a true shooting percentage of 69.6. Only three games but impressive nonetheless. Sure would have filled some needs for Orlando.
As for the Magic, Aaron Gordon has been at the epicenter of the Magic’s shooting woes the last two games. He shot 1-for-14 against the Celtics and 2-for-12 against the Sixers, combining to go 0-for-10 from three in the two games combined. Speaking of threes, it would be a great confidence-builder for Markelle Fultz if he is able to knock one down before the Magic head into the regular season. Fultz, who in the 33 regular season games he played with Philadelphia shot 4-for-15 from three, has missed all five of his attempts from three this preseason. With the NBA world seemingly watching his every move, it would be nice to see him clear that hurdle, if only for the physiological aspect.
Overall, the Magic should be mostly intact as they look to conclude the preseason on a positive note.
“The preseason has given us a balanced perspective about where we’re at and how good we can be and how much better we can get,” Isaac said.
Steve Clifford was asked what he wants his team to accomplish in its preseason finale. His answer: "I want us to look more like the Magic. I want us to look like a spirited, purposeful, energetic team, which we haven't here for the last 2 games and a lot of the game in Atlanta."— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) October 17, 2019