Orlando Magic start slow as inconsistency grows

The Orlando Magic again showed their inconsistency and frustration with another slow start that has put questions squarely on the starting lineup.

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There was a bit of apprehension as tip off neared.

The Orlando Magic were coming off a 20-plus-point beatdown to the Chicago Bulls where their poor defensive start forced them into a race they could not win. The offense dwindled and the Magic found themselves down by double digits in the first quarter again.

This has been the familiar way things have gone for the Magic. It has been all too familiar. Increasingly familiar.

And increasingly distressing.

The Magic laid an egg at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The response to their blowout loss to the Bulls was not enough.

As Frank Vogel put it after the game, the Timberwolves responded more to being 1-5 than the Magic did to their blowout defeat. The hole the Magic built from the very beginning of the game prove to be too big. The starting lineup struggled to set the tone Vogel and the Magic want, especially on defense.

The team was down and dead in the water from the start. Again.

“It’s pretty frustrating just the way we are starting the game,” Bismack Biyombo said. “We’re just not starting the game the right way. We all have to do a better job at it. The starting unit has to bring a little more energy than we are doing. And in the end we have to play D to win the game.”

The Magic’s start Wednesday was in much stark contrast to other games. It finally seemed the team’s play had penetrated Vogel’s usually positive demeanor on the bench. He called a timeout just 3.5 minutes into the game with his team down 13-4. Vogel then called a 20 second timeout not a minute later as his team gave up an offensive rebound and fell behind 15-7.

He made his first subs, but the damage was done and the Timberwolves built their lead to 16 points in the first quarter. The Magic would not get any closer until the second half, briefly, falling behind by 20-plus points and giving up 39 points in the quarter.

Nothing was saving Orlando this game.

“It’s a long NBA season and blowouts happen,” Vogel said. “You hit teams that are red hot. You hope you do better than you did tonight. We have a good basketball team that hasn’t figure d it out yet. We have high character guys. Right now, our margin for error is very slim. If we’re going to be outworked with effort, concentration and focus and attention to detail, you are going to see what you saw tonight.”

It is certainly frustrating again for the team to be questioning effort and work. This has become a trend and a disturbing one.

The starting unit is not getting the job done, further stoking the flames that Vogel may make a change.

The Magic’s starting lineup of Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic posted a 117.0 offensive rating and a 132.2 defensive rating in 16 minutes in Wednesday’s game. The Timberwolves were doing whatever they wanted offensively. And, thanks to the third-quarter run led by Nikola Vucevic, the Magic’s offense was at least functional.

Overall for the season, that starting unit is posting a 104.0 offensive rating and a 112.2 defensive rating. This is not the start the Magic want to get to. Not the defensive tone they need to succeed.

It would seem to get the kind of start the Magic need, they must sacrifice some offensive efficiency to get the defense under control. Whether that means changing the lineup by adding a player like Bismack Biyombo or relying on pride and effort to keep the ship above water, remains to be seen.

The problems though may very well go deeper than a simple lineup change.

“Chemistry is part of it,” Vucevic said. “Part of it is effort from each guy to do that. Each guy has to stay within his role and within his strength. We can’t try to do overdo stuff that does not fit in our game. It stats from each guy first thinking what he has to do out  there on the court for others. If all of us do that, it will be much better. If we play that way, everyone of us will look better too.”

As tired as it is, this team is still developing roles and responsibilities within the offense. This team is not on the same page.

That is harming the offense in a major way. Players are not on the same page and often playing one-on-one ball. They are not, as Vogel often puts it, trusting the pass. The team still need to learn to play together.

As Vucevic and so many others reminded, the Magic’s margin for error is small. Without a star to galvanize their offense, they have to work even harder together to get good shots. Something the team still struggles to do, with the second worst field goal percentage in the league.

The defense is the best tool for the offense. And the Magic’s defense is struggling more.

And it certainly says something the Magic have played from behind in virtually ever game, trailing by at least 10 points in every game but one so far this season.

“Slow start is always going to put us in those spots,” Biyombo said. “We are doing that to ourselves. Nobody else. They came out and playe dharder than us. You have to give them credit. We have to figure a way to play hard. We have to start the game the right way. It all starts on the defensive end.”

It is still early. The Magic can have things click and begin moving in the right direction. But things have to start out better for the Magic to take that step.

And following another embarrassing defeat, the Magic have some big questions to answer to get to that point.

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