Orlando Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford was beside himself after Wednesday night’s 96-87 loss at home to the Western Conference leading Los Angeles Lakers.
Clifford only took a couple of questions during his post-game press conference, using the time instead to seemingly convey one simple message.
“I just told the guys, it was as if we never had a shoot-around this morning,“ Clifford said after the game. “Never talked about the Lakers. You can’t turn the ball over, you’ve got to be physical on the glass. You’ve got to make good rebounding decisions, so that on the offensive end you are back (on defense). We did none of those three things and it took us like 10 or 11 minutes to get locked-in to what we had to do. After that we played fine, we played fine.”
He wasn’t happy with the way his team started the game. Specifically, he was frustrated with Orlando’s attention to detail and the overall game-plan against the Lakers.
“It’s not effort,” Clifford added when asked about his team’s slow start Wednesday night. “You have to know what the strengths of the other team are, especially the great teams, and you have to be able to be ready to do what you have to do to take away their strengths. And that’s not the way we started the game.”
The Magic suffered through an absolutely brutal first twelve minutes of Wednesday night’s contest, shooting 19% from the field (4-21 FGA’s). Orlando was able to manage just nine first quarter points against the Lakers, spotting LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and co. a 17-point early lead.
Holding their own on the boards was something that Clifford was concerned about heading into the game against Lose Angeles (and honestly, something he’s been disappointed in his team about for some time), and that concern proved to be justified right away. The Lakers grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the game’s opening period, which led to 12 Los Angeles second chance points.
“I don’t know, we just have to do better,” Evan Fournier told reporters in the locker room after Wednesday night’s game. “On this particular game, we have to do better. We have to box out and we have to be ready for the aggression, but we adjusted as the game went on. Getting down 21 against these guys, it’s definitely too tough to come back and win the game.”
The Lakers began the game with tremendous energy on the defensive end. They contested shots, disrupted pass attempts, kept Orlando ball-handlers in front of them. Their length and activity on the defensive end was something impressive to watch in the first quarter.
“I think we came out so strong defensively,” Lakers Head Coach (and former Magic head coach) Frank Vogel said late Wednesday of the game’s first period. “We held them to nine points and probably let our guard down after that. Felt like it was going to be easy and this is a scrappy team (Orlando) that we’re playing. They’re a good team, they almost beat Milwaukee on the road.”
To Orlando’s credit, the home team steadied themselves in the second quarter, and continued to play well for the rest of the game. And Vogel is correct, that is a similar scenario to what happened against the Bucks in Milwaukee last Monday night.
In Milwaukee, Orlando was down by double-digits in the the first quarter, but outscored the top team in the Eastern Conference 81-79 through the remaining three quarters (lost 110-101). Wednesday, Orlando was down by as many as 24 points before crawling all the way back, outscoring Los Angeles 78-70 in the second through fourth quarters.
Orlando second-year center Mohamed Bamba was a big part of the turnaround last night, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the second quarter.
“We started the game pretty rough,” Bamba said in front of his locker after the game. “We didn’t quite follow the game plan, but my job was to come in and give some sort of spark. I tried to do the best that I could.”
You certainly can’t fault the Magic regarding their effort. In two consecutive games, Orlando got down big early against the elites of the NBA. And in both instances, the team showed perseverance and resolve - competing and keeping the contests within reach.
The Magic were also playing without their starting point guard, Markelle Fultz, who missed the Lakers game due to an illness. And of course, Orlando has already been down in their front-court, continuing to play without starting center Nikola Vucevic and reserve forward Al-Farouq Aminu.
“Yeah (I mean), we fought hard, I don’t remember one game where we didn’t fight this year,” Fournier added after the game. “We are a team that fights until the end. It’s not enough at times. We have to make sure that we play smarter and we play hard.”
One thing is clear coming from the head coach himself. The Magic have to stick to their scouting report and follow the game-plan that the coaching staff installs in shoot-around. In Clifford’s words, they’re good enough to beat anybody, but they’re also not good enough to beat anyone if they don’t play smart (and the right way).
“Pat Delany (assistant coach) did a great job, he’s been in the NBA forever,” Clifford said during his post-game conference. “He knows the Lakers inside and out. He gave the team a great game-plan. And for 12 minutes, we said ‘we’re going to do what we want’. We’re not that team.”
“We played better the next three quarters (after the miserable first),” D.J. Augustin said after the game. “If we could’ve just started like that, it would have been great. We’ve just got to carry that over to practice tomorrow (Thursday) and get ready for the Rockets.”
Jonathan Isaac seemed to get stronger as the night went on, scoring 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to go along with 8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Orlando’s third-year forward led the team in scoring, and also pulled down 8 rebounds to go along with 2 blocked shots.
Things don’t get a whole lot easier for the Magic. Their next tilt is scheduled for Friday (at home) against James Harden (who scored 55 points in Cleveland Wednesday), Russell Westbrook, and the Houston Rockets.