In scoring a season-high 119 points, the Magic’s offense was flowing and moving. Players were attacking and moving. Payton probed and prodded the defense, twisting and turning it, ripping it apart and creating space.
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The Magic defense is not always pretty, but this was it at its best. The ball moved and found the open man. And the Magic made their shots (that usually helps).
But Vogel had a warning in that statement too.
There were moments in that game — specifically a 17-2 run in the third quarter that brought the Thunder back into the game — where the offense stuck. Where Payton looked unsure and lost his aggression. Where the team was trying hard to crack the defense but unable to do so, even in the simplest terms.
This was the warning of the Magic’s offense gone horribly wrong. The stagnant bunch unable to move the ball or get open shots. The team standing around trying desperately to break free, but frustratingly unable to do so.
This is the offense that has sunk to the bottom of the league in offensive rating. This is the offense that has the worst field goal percentage in the league.
That is the team that showed up in an 88-69 loss to the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday.
Orlando shot 32.1 percent from the floor. The team had just 12 assists on 27 field goals. This was a team stuck and unable to crack the Indiana Pacers.
Certainly, the Magic expended a lot of energy in Sunday’s win over the Thunder. And then had to travel from Oklahoma City to Indianapolis overnight — not an easy flight. There was plenty of signs this could be a schedule loss.
Orlando though played some of its best, most prolonged defense of the season. Indiana struggled to score and shoot too. The Pacers’ half-court offense was just as much a struggle.
The difference in the game, as it turned out, was the Magic’s turnovers and the way it helped the Pacers get out and run. And those turnovers, difficult passes intercepted in an offense that did not have much direction to begin with, turned into easy points on a night points were hard to find.
The Magic’s offense is always a struggle, they do not have the shooters or drivers to be the most efficient team. Frank Vogel promised 90-88 games and the Magic have delivered a few clunkers already this season. The Magic’s offense can be hard to watch.
The low assist number and the poor field goal shooting was only part of the story, albeit a significant one. The Magic were missing a lot of shots they wanted to take. But pretty quickly the ball stopped moving altogether.
Orlando’s offense is still hard to figure completely. The Magic do not have the isolation players to score at will. And so their late-shot-clock plays will always be shaky. When things break down, the Magic have few if any places to turn.
It is not those moments that put the Magic in trouble. It is those other 23 seconds. The standing around trying to get into a set but wasting time and not actually doing anything. These are the moments where the Magic truly craters.
Sunday it was because Payton was trying to attack but the defense was sagging off so much that it left him indecisive.
For much of Monday’s game, it was because the Magic were working too much on their own. They were unable to get into their offense or generate good shots. Even in a game against one of the worst defenses in the league so far.
Orlando, as Vogel often says, did not trust the pass. Not in the way they have to at least — the Magic did have more passes than their season average. Instead, this was about the Magic not attacking. They were passive offensively while not moving to create space or driving to the basket. They were just kind of stuck, forcing things but not actually breaking the defense down.
It was an offense that made it abundantly clear how poor the Magic’s spacing can still be. Thirty-two of Orlando’s 84 shots came in the restricted area. Eighteen of their 27 makes came in the restricted area. The Magic were hardly efficient anywhere else. They simply could not get to those easy scoring areas consistent enough. Or get open jumpers.
The design for Orlando’s offense is already not a great one. It relies perhaps a little too heavily on attacking off the dribble and pick and rolls. There is very little off-ball movement or screening. This only makes the Magic’s task more difficult.
The team is decent at attacking in transition and secondary transition. But those moments have been few throughout the season.
Even in this game with the defense getting stops, the Magic struggled to execute in the half court. The over-simplified offensive sets depend on players beating their man to collapse the defense. That did not happen Monday.
Compounded with turnovers, that meant Orlando was digging itself out of a sizable hole. This is not a team that can afford self-inflicted wounds with an already small margin for error offensively.
The Magic’s offense is stagnant. It is not a thing of beauty to watch. They still have a long way to go to become a functioning offense. They might need to add some complexity to make it work. Then again, they have to execute.