Orlando Magic need to close games early

The Orlando Magic had trouble closing games last season, and it started early in the season. They need to fix that right from the start.

Last season, the Orlando Magic had a big problem with closing games, and it started right from the beginning.

The Magic blew late leads in three of their first five games, including blowing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder in that classic double overtime thriller.

The team likely had those memories of late game struggles throughout the rest of the season. And they were unable to fight for many wins that went down to the wire throughout a disappointing finish to 2016.

As a result, the Magic finished with about 1.6 fewer wins than their point differential would have suggested through the Pythagorean Win Expectation formula.

Only five teams finished with fewer wins than their expectation last season — the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics.

Teams that finish below their Pythagorean Win Expectation often face a mixture of bad luck and failure to close out as many close games as you would expect.

The Magic will want to stop that trend from continuing. They will need to prove they can close out games early on in the season especially.

If they find themselves losing a lot of tight, winnable games early in the season, they will likely lose confidence in their late game execution once again. And that could stick with the team for the rest of the season.

The coaching staff will have to find the root of the problem and fix it early. The Magic may very well have to play above their station and steal some wins to complete their Playoff goals.

Why then did the Magic struggle so much late in games to lose that confidence?

One aspect each of the aforementioned teams have in common is the lack of a reliable, high-usage scorer. That could be a reason for these struggles closing.

As opponents would begin rallying and gaining ground on the Magic, their players would begin to panic a bit and play more isolation basketball, which often happens in the NBA in those situations.

But the Magic did not really have someone they could rely on to get the ball and consistently make plays. Their offense would struggle as it steered away from its usual game plan, and they would fail to stop the other team’s rally.

In that double-overtime Oklahoma City game, the Thunder had Kevin Durant score 12 points in the fourth quarter and Russell Westbrook score 13 in the fourth quarter, including the game-tying 37 footer. The Wizards had John Wall score 12 in the fourth quarter in their comeback on opening night against the Magic a few nights before.

The Magic, along with the other underachieving teams, had no one who could take control of the offense while facing adversity and supply consistent buckets. That could be a big reason why they struggled to close out these games.

The Magic did not seem to solve the issue of finding a reliable scorer for late-game situations. Frank Vogel and the coaching staff will have to figure out another solution.

Obviously they are hoping their defense will be strong enough to prevent other teams from going on big runs and holding onto late leads. But they will also need to figure out late-game offense.

One potential solution is to gear more toward a fast, motion offense similar to what the Magic ran in their strong month of December last season.

While most teams milk the clock and allow someone to play hero ball, the Magic do not have the personnel for that. Instead, they may opt for off-ball movement and finding whoever is open. That style of play may be what works best for them.

Only time will tell which style of offense works best for this Magic team. And the coaching staff could ride the most successful play types late in the game. But a faster offense would also lead to more possessions for the opponents. The Magic may deem that too risky for them and would instead hope that slow hero ball works for them when they need it.

The Magic will need to do a better job of closing games this season. That improvement needs to come early so they do not completely lose their confidence down the wire the rest of the season.

The Magic may be in a tight race for a playoff spot, and will need every advantage they can get.

That first month of the season should provide some important opportunities. The Magic will face 11 teams that did not make the Playoffs last year in 18 October and November games.

Overachieving compared to their Pythagorean Win Expectation could make the difference between making and missing the playoffs. That late-game ability will need to show early in the season.

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