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Post game notebook: The search for offense, and a strong defensive performance

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The Magic are struggling to find offense without Nikola Vucevic, but got a great performance on defense.

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

Offensive struggles

The Orlando Magic really miss Nikola Vucevic.

The lynchpin of their offense missed his fourth straight game due to a right lateral ankle sprain, and it hurt them once again. They lacked flow in both halves, and struggled to take care of the ball and knock down shots in the second half, ultimately leading to their defeat.

“Offense is hard right now,” is almost all coach Steve Clifford could muster postgame. “We’re doing some better things, but again, the turnovers (cost us).”

Not having Vucevic has forced the Magic to find different ways to generate their offense, something that didn’t come easy on Friday night. They made just 34.6 percent of their shots from the field, and shot a woeful 13-of-43 in the second half.

Toronto, one of the best defensive units in the league, and one of the longest teams out there, trapped the Magic’s only hopes of creating offense off the dribble all night. Their traps were effective, making life difficult on the likes of Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross.

“In the second half, when you turn the ball over, and you don’t play with as much confidence, the ball starts to stick,” said a frustrated Evan Fournier. “It’s too easy to just say ‘we have to move the ball.’ You’ve got to look at the reasons why the ball isn’t moving. No one is trying to hold the ball. Sometimes the defense just does a good job, and you’re trying to find ways to get the offense rolling and we just weren’t able to score tonight.”

After giving up 47 points on 40 percent shooting in the first half, Toronto tightened things up, and took the game over. Their length led to turnover, after turnover, after turnover, which led to easy buckets on their end of the floor.

It was all the perfect storm for the Magic to crumble once again in the second half.

With Vucevic likely to miss upwards of three more weeks with the ankle sprain, the Magic are going to have to figure things out on offense and quickly. While their next stretch of games seems to set them up for some victories, they have games against some of the best teams in the league, and a four-game West coast trip mixed in there as well.

The return of Aaron Gordon should help things some on that end, and coach Clifford noted that he felt as though Gordon helped the offense overall, despite struggling with his shot. His ability to drive and create opened a few things up on the night, and against teams that might not deploy the length, and defensive ability the Raptors have, could lead to more success offensively for the Magic.

No matter how you spin it, the Magic, especially on the offensive end, need Vucevic to get healthy, and get healthy fast if they want to turn things around.

Strong defensive performance

Any time you can hold one of the top-10 offenses in the league to 90 points, and 36.9 percent shooting, you feel like you have a good chance to win.

That’s exactly what the Magic did on Friday night, and gave themselves a chance, one that they ultimately squandered. After the game, the frustration was clear from players, mainly Evan Fournier, who weren’t afraid to say they let one get away.

From the start, the Magic had a good energy and activity level on the defensive end, forcing Toronto to miss six of their first seven shots. That continued the majority of the opening half, as they held the Raptors to just 30.6 percent shooting overall.

If not for Norman Powell turning into Kevin Durant in the second half, the Magic might’ve won.

Coach Clifford lauded his teams play on the defensive end, saying that it was a defensive game that “is going to win most nights.” He also noted that a lot of their fastbreak points, something the Raptors rank highly in this season, were a bi-product of his teams turnovers, not necessarily bad defense.

The performance on the defensive end is one the Magic can take and build off of. They’re doing good things on that side of the ball, and should continue to get sharper as the season wears on.