It’s been quite some time since we have consistently seen the brand of Steve Clifford formulated Magic defense that powered the team back to the playoffs in 2019. It was lost even as the Magic thrived pre-hiatus in 2020, and for a bulk of bubble play and against a nearly impossible to defend Bucks team in the postseason.
It hasn’t yet been found in the preseason, with the Magic allowing 117 points per over their first three games. When the Magic conclude the postseason on Saturday night against the Hornets, a game that should have more of a regular season feel, they’ll be looking to get back to playing that brand of basketball.
Evan Fournier said he wants to treat the preseason finale like it’s the Magic’s regular season opener.
“Playing good defense, playing Magic defense, which we didn’t do last game for some reason,” Fournier said. “I would definitely want us to play a real good intense game for 48 minutes.”
That wasn’t the case on Thursday as the Magic allowed the Hornets to have their way inside and out during a 123-115 loss. Orlando allowed too much separation and Charlotte capitalized, hitting 18 of 41 three-point attempts (43.9%) and also scoring 56 points in the paint.
“They scored in the paint, they made threes. They rocked us,” Clifford said after the game. “Offensively we did some good things and defensively we weren’t close.”
We’ll see if the Magic can tighten up their defense in the finale.
The good things Clifford was referring to offensively was a product of the Magic’s second unit, a group that is showing it may be able to score in a variety of ways compared to recent season.
Far too often, that responsibility seemed to fall solely on Terrence Ross and the instant offense he tends to provide off the bench. But when shots weren’t falling for Ross, the Magic offense stagnates and there aren’t many options to compensate. While making his preseason debut on Thursday, Ross got some help from a pair of rookies in Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke, something that hopefully translates into the regular season.
“For the second unit, it’s really going to be key for us to have multiple guys who can score,” Fournier said. “So, if it’s Chuma, if it’s Cole, if it’s Dwayne [Bacon], it doesn’t really matter. We obviously need to have balance and by that I mean having offense in the starting five and the bench. They’re going to have a huge role to play. So hopefully these guys can figure it out and help us win.”
Ross scored 13 points on 4 of 7 shooting (3-for-4 from three), and showed early chemistry with Okeke, receiving a beautiful backdoor pass for the dunk.
“When he made that pass, like, I knew, there’s not too many guys who can make that pass, especially back door off the dribble,” Ross said. “Usually that’s me and AG’s play, me and AG got that connection. But Chuma he surprised me with that pass right on the money. That’s always a good sign.”
Also a good sign was Okeke knocking down another pair of threes on Thursday, bringing his encouraging preseason total from deep to 5-for-12.
Anthony was also a threat from deep, hitting 3 of 4 attempts. He finished with 13 points and four assists, including this kickout to Okeke...
Might we really be living in a world where the Orlando Magic have multiple outside threats off the bench?
“To be able to play with a dude who can shoot like that, shoot, that makes everybody’s life easier,” Anthony said of Ross. “Just having people that can shoot...awesome. That’s not just a dude who can shoot, that’s one of the best shooters in the league. I’m happy he’s back out there, happy he’s starting to feel better I’m comfortable playing with him and I look forward to playing with him more.”
Encouraging signs on offense for sure, and it will be interesting to see how the rookies and the second unit fare in their final tune-up before things start to coubut Ross recognizes that for the team to reach it’s full potential, it has to get back to playing Magic defense.
“We have spurts and segments where we’re playing together,” he said. “The biggest thing for us is our defense. Our defense is going to be the thing that’s going to charge us offensively. It’s going to make the offensive game easier. Any time you can get stops, you can get out on the break, you can run, you get up and down the court, it makes your offense easier. It makes it harder on defense. I think that’s what we’re trying to understand. We have stretches where we play good defense, and then we have different stretches where we’re not. It’s just finding that intensity to maintain so you can have that defensive intensity the whole game and you can runt he pressure up on the other team.”
Who: Orlando Magic (1-2) vs. Charlotte Hornets (1-2)
When: Saturday at 7 p.m.
Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida
TV: Fox Sports Florida