As the Milwaukee Bucks look to grab their second win over the Orlando Magic in just under a week, we caught up with Philip Rossman-Reich to get the lowdown on Sunday’s opponents.
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Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to Opposition Intel!
After yet another spirited performance against one of the league’s better teams in a loss last time out, for many Milwaukee Bucks fans the question now turns back to whether they can take care of business against opposition closer to their current level.
If not for an incredible display of shooting from the Raptors, and some poor late game execution when the Bucks matched up with the Warriors, Milwaukee could be riding a three game win streak into this game. Instead they’ve lost four of their last five.
Still, teams like the Warriors, Raptors and Hawks are supposed to get the better of the Bucks. On Sunday, Milwaukee square off with a team they should like their chances of beating, and one who they got the better of only six days ago. With this game coming on the road, can the Bucks beat the Orlando Magic again?
Ahead of the action, we spoke to Orlando Magic writer, Philip Rossman-Reich, to find out exactly what to expect in the game, and to learn about what matchups we should be looking out for.
Adam McGee (@AdamMcGee11): With the additions of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, the Magic’s front court rotation now looks particularly crowded. Has there been any sign of that shaking out early in the season, and what do you feel the best combination will be for the Magic in the longer term?
Philip Rossman-Reich (@OMagicDaily): The answer to that question is kind of complicated.
It still seems a bit crowded. The Orlando Magic are still trying to figure out the right combinations and how to maximize the players and their skills. Nikola Vucevic does not post up as much as he should. Serge Ibaka rarely takes corner 3s. Bismack Biyombo ends up guarding power forwards in certain lineups. They can do all these things on occasion, but they still need to get used in a certain way for them to be successful. Or the most successful they can be.
The Vucevic-Ibaka combo has worked at times. The Ibaka-Biyombo combo has worked at times too. But there is always some flaw that the team has to overcome. Typically it has been on offense.
At one time, it seemed Vucevic would be the odd man out. But his improvement on the defensive end of late has made it hard to see the team being successful without him. Even as he has struggled on offense — he has turned it around the last two games. So for now, there is a good equilibrium with the front court rotation. Especially now that the Magic’s defense has begun to emerge and come into its own.
Adam: Although the Magic have moved on from some of their core young pieces of recent years, guys like Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja and, even, Aaron Gordon are still working towards proving themselves and defining their roles. Can any of those three emerge to be a go-to option for Orlando, or are they more likely to be supporting players even at full potential?
Philip: It is looking more and more like Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja are going to be supporting players — if they have much of a future in the NBA at all.
Payton is in his third year essentially as the starter and has progressed only slowly at this point. It is hard to say if he can truly be a starting point guard for a winning team at this point in his career. And it is hard to imagine him providing much off the bench with his inability to shoot. The Magic are right to give him some more run and to see what he can become, but his inconsistencies — and the team’s offensive issues — leave a lot to be desired from his position.
Mario Hezonja has fallen out of the rotation. He cannot do the thing he was drafted to do — shoot. And that leaves his NBA future very much in doubt beyond his rookie contract. There is still time for him to figure things out. But it is rough to do on a team so determined to win right now.
Aaron Gordon is still the great hope. He has shown steady improvement offensively and his defense is becoming elite. When he is given the opportunity, at least. The switch to small forward is still a work in progress. Moving him to the bench actually has proven to be a developmental benefit. But the Magic need things to speed up. They are not likely willing to wait another year for Gordon to actualize himself. And, then again, who knows if that will be enough. His potential still seems boundless.
Gordon’s niche right now is on the defensive end. He has looked like a potential all-defensive player throughout the season. That will keep him in the league for a while. Whether that means he can build the offensive skills to become a star is another question. But he remains the Magic’s best bet.
Adam: What’s your impression of Milwaukee’s current roster and how do you expect them to fare over the course of the season?
Philip: Essentially, the Milwaukee Bucks are kind of where the Orlando Magic want to be. They have the good young player in Giannis Antetokounmpo on the cusp of stardom and developing in a clear upward trend. They have a roster that seems to fit around him perfectly. They got that big lottery win in Jabari Parker the Magic have so desperately needed.
The Bucks are not on an exact straight trajectory though. They are still seeking their identity. I thought they had built one on defense when they made the Playoffs two years ago and then they seemingly let go of that rope some. Their free agency bid on Greg Monroe fell flat. But having a quasi-star and players with clear star trajectories makes everything rosier. A team can take those steps back and still wait on development. The Magic never had that luxury.
Missing Khris Middleton and his shooting to balance the floor with that starting unit is probably all that is keeping the Bucks from being a surefire Playoff team in my mind. They are tremendous in transition, but the lack of a true point guard (sorry Matthew Dellavedova) and shooting probably holds them back at the moment.
Adam: If you were to single out one matchup as having the potential to be decisive between the Bucks and Magic, what would it be and why?
Philip: We saw this matchup in the last week and it proved to be a good one. The big matchup that I watched that game was how Serge Ibaka’s size matched up with Jabari Parker on the perimeter or Giannis Antetokounmpo’s speed (I believe Jeff Green got the initial call on Antetokounmpo on Monday, but they both should get a turn). The game Monday turned when Parker hit those five of seven 3-pointers and drained two or three in a row from the wing. Ibaka has to do a better job contesting those shots or hoping he just misses them as his percentages would suggest.
The big question for me after watching Monday’s game between these teams was how pace played a role. When the Bucks were forced to play a half court game, they largely struggled. When they forced turnovers and got out in transition, the Magic struggled to limit their effectiveness.
Adam: What’s your final prediction for how Sunday’s game between the two teams will play out?
Philip: I think the game will play out fairly similar to Monday’s game. The Magic and Bucks, despite differing feelings nationally about their futures, are still pretty similar. And they should still play a pretty neck and neck game.
I suspect the Magic will again try to slow the pace way down and rely on their half-court defense to slow the Bucks down. There will be moments when Orlando commits turnovers and Milwaukee will take advantage in those moments. The game then comes down to execution in the fourth quarter. And, at that point, it is anyone’s guess what either of these teams will do late.