The Magic have a tremendous challenge awaiting them. Few are giving them much of a chance, most expect their stay in the postseason to be a brief one, and many NBA Playoff promos are just flat out ignoring them.
So, that being said, some of us here at OPP got together to discuss what the Magic need to do exactly to defy the odds and win the series. But first, a message from our new favorite media personality, Damon Jones...
The Magic can win this series if Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry both decide to quit basketball immediately to instead take their talents to the set of Space Jam 2.
Not happening? Okay, Plan B.
The Magic can win this series if they: Limit turnovers. Get to the free throw line more frequently than usual. Pass the ball with fluency and precision. Stay active off the ball and force the Raptors to work on defense. Hit a healthy percentage of three point attempts. Avoid hero ball. Establish Vucevic’s presence in the post. Get surprise contributions from some unexpected places. Cash in on a Terrence Ross eruption or two. Generate some fast break points via disruptive defense. Manage Toronto’s pick and roll effectively. Stop Kyle Lowry from getting into the paint at will. Slow down Kawhi Leonard. Come out ahead in the Isaac/Siakam matchup. Control the defensive boards. Limit Toronto’s trips to the charity stripe. Avoid foul trouble and the need to go too far down the bench. See Steve Clifford out coach Nick Nurse. Take care of business on their home court. Steal a result in T-Dot. Win four games.
That’s it. Easy, right?
Once the match-up was decided, I tried to do some research to write a piece about weaknesses the Magic might be able to take advantage of if they want to stand a chance. I gave up. I couldn’t find any!
You really have to stretch to find anything meaningful. The Raptors are slightly below average on the offensive boards? I guess? The most compelling parts of the contest will be strength-versus-strength, like the Raptors’ transition offense versus the Magic’s transition defense.
Ultimately, Orlando will have to outplay and out-hustle Toronto, because schematically there’s just not a lot to take advantage of. It’s possible...but it’s maybe a 10% chance at best, in my mind.
The national media says Orlando can’t win this series, and the national media knows everything, so the Magic may as well just turn the plane around. FiveThirtyEight gives the Magic a 2% chance of advancing to the second round, and I haven’t seen many talking heads predict this series to go more than five games (except you, Damon Jones!).
Hmmmm something (us) is missing. https://t.co/tbtaql983U— y - Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) April 13, 2019
But the national media probably doesn’t spend much of their free time watching Magic basketball and hasn’t seen what we in Orlando have seen. There’s no doubt that the odds are clearly against the Magic and they will need A LOT of things to go right to have any chance of winning this series. But since January 31st, the Magic and Raptors have been remarkably similar in record (Magic were 22-9, Raptors were 21-9), offensive rating (Magic at 112.5, Raptors at 112.8) and defensive rating (Magic at a league-best 104.9, Raptors at 105.5).
So allow me to rephrase the question somewhat: The Magic will make this a very interesting series if.....
1) Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac continue to frustrate Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors’ two leading scorers. They did so in the regular season, but repetition and pressure situations could work against the Magic’s young frontcourt.
2) They protect the ball. The Magic are among the league leaders turnover rate (12.4%, seventh best), and the Raptors are among the league leaders in points off turnovers (17.2, ninth best). If the Magic allow one of their strengths to become a weakness, the Raptors will be quick to capitalize on those turnovers. Their offense is troublesome enough without giving them extra possessions.
3) Nikola Vucevic hits his threes and open looks. Marc Gasol is aging, but his defensive IQ is as sharp as ever and he uses his positioning and anticipation to his advantage. Gasol, and the elite defensive team surrounding him, could make things very challenging for the Magic’s inside-out offense. So when going to the high pick-and-roll, Vucevic must take advantage of Gasol, who tends to drop into coverage, by knocking down his perimeter shots.
4) Aaron Gordon asserts himself offensively. For pretty much the first time in his career, other than the Dunk Contest, Gordon has a national audience. The Magic pay him like a star player, and star players step it up when in the spotlight this time of year. For AG, that means finding that balance of being aggressive without forcing. Just going to throw a random number out there: let’s get 19 points per game out of Gordon for the series.
5) Terrence Ross ignites each and every game...
Let the Terrence Ross revenge series begin! pic.twitter.com/mK390IjKgG— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) April 11, 2019