Orlando Magic’s needs are clear: Spacing and shooting

The Orlando Magic knew they would need to be sharp to have the firepower to stop the Houston Rockets. The 3-point story Tuesday shows exactly what they need.

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The Orlando Magic had to feel they were getting hit a second time with the news that came down at halftime. Aaron Gordon would miss the second half with a sore right foot.

The extent of the injury beyond having to miss the second half Tuesday is unknown. But the Magic were going to have to attack and defend James Harden and the Houston Rockets without a key player.

That, of course, was made double at small forward with Jeff Green leaving the team to be with his fiance for his daughter’s birth.

The Magic gave up a 20-2 run between the first and second quarters to fall completely behind the Rockets. Orlando gave up 70 points and trailed by 16 points at halftime. The Magic saw the Rockets rip them apart, teasing them with their shooters around the perimeter and creating space for this constant threat.

Orlando knew this was never going to be their strength. They hoped to supplement this problem with some ability to attack the paint and forcing the defense to collapse with pick and rolls, attacks off ball reversals or doubles into the post. The Magic offense has struggled.

At various times, the Magic have used Damjan Rudez to try to create some space. The stretch-4 essentially can only shoot with coach Frank Vogel joking at one point Damjan Rudez knows if misses a shot, Vogel will pull him from the game. Orlando knows it has a 3-point problem.

The second half to the Magic’s 128-104 loss to the Rockets at Toyota Center on Tuesday did reveal something. If the magic can make 3-pointers and spread the floor with shooters, they can have a functioning offense.

For all the good Aaron Gordon can do, he is not a 3-point shooter or accurate jump shooter. He is shooting worse than 30 percent from beyond the arc this year and from more than 15 feet. Gordon does not space the floor. It is one of the bigger arguments against him continuing to play at small forward.

With Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green both out, Vogel (finally) had to turn to Mario Hezonja. And even though Mario Hezonja has not had the greatest shooting year of his life (29.9 percent from beyond the arc), he still has a reputation as a good 3-point shooter.

The Magic did not use Hezonja a ton — he still put up six shots making three on his way to eight points, making one of his two 3-pointers in 14.5 minutes Tuesday — but even having him in the corner helped create some more driving lanes.

In the second half, Tuesday, the Magic cut that 16-point lead to nine at one point. Orlando lost the half 68-50, so the numbers are still not good — 101.2 offensive rating and 120.9 defensive rating. That is thanks largely to a 19-2 run to end the game.

Until the midpoint of the fourth quarter, the Magic posted a 117.4 offensive rating and a 91.9 defensive rating. That might receive a “well, duh,” the Magic cut a 20-plus-point lead down to nine. And it might also receive a “yeah, but that is not even a full half of basketball.”

All points well taken. But the difference in the game was quite clear.

Overall, the Magic shot 6 for 25 from beyond the arc (24.0 percent). When compared to the Rockets’ 16-for-38 shooting (42.1 percent) from beyond the arc, the difference is pretty clear.

Even though the Magic made just two of eight 3-pointers in the second half, the space it created was pretty clear. Orlando shot 21 for 38 in the paint for the game, but 11 for 22 in the second half. The Magic were better attacking the paint.

Some of that is certainly credited to a more aggressive, urgent posture from the team. But if a player like Hezonja can have an effect it is in this reputation as a shooter. As FOX Sports Florida’s broadcast noted, this was a game where the Magic really missed Jodie Meeks, the team’s only 40-percent shooter from beyond the arc.

Orlando has not been a good 3-point shooting team. As I noted on Orlando Magic Daily entering the game, the team ranks near the bottom of the league in 3-point field goal percentage (33.1 percent, 28th in the league) but in the middle of the pack in 3-point field goal attempts per game (26.2 attempts per game, 14th in the league).

The NBA is a spread-the-floor game. The Rockets are proving that with each 50-attempt per game from beyond the arc. The NBA will smash its 3-point attempt record once again.

And the Magic, as they said at the time, zagged while everyone zigged. That formula has not worked. With the Magic’s defense in tatters, their poor offense is exposed even more.

The team’s shooting was the Magic’s biggest deficiency entering the season, and it remains so to this point. Finding a solution is going to be really tough. Clearly even having a decent shooter like Evan Fournier in the starting lineup (he went one for eight from beyond the arc Tuesday) and Serge Ibaka is not enough.

It is hard to analyze anything about the Magic without thinking about the upcoming trade deadline. And the needs for this team are clear.

The Magic have to find a way to add some shooting. Even if that means the Gordon-as-3 experiment ends, so be it. The Magic have to find a way to create driving lanes. They already have a bit of a deficit with Elfrid Payton‘s poor shooting at point guard.

Hezonja is not likely to resolve the Magic’s spacing issues fully. While Hezonja is making shots more frequently of late — 3 for 9 in his last four appearances — there is a reason he has not played much. And Hezonja still looked a little shaky in his sudden playing time.

Perhaps, though, this is his way to get back into the rotation. Even by reputation having a better shooter helped the Magic get back into the game. It will be interesting to see if this continues.

The need is extra clear, though. As Orlando plans its next roster moves, shooting and 3-point shooting will become imperative to add.

The Magic simply cannot keep up with the way they brick shots now.

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