Ennis Expected to Make Magic Debut Tonight Against Hawks

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Some 53 games into the season, the Orlando Magic have to wonder where they would be now had they simply been able to be average on the offensive end of the floor.

After all, the Magic rank first in the NBA in points allowed per game (104.9) and they are mostly middle of the pack in several other key defensive numbers. However, their overwhelming offensive woes – 29th in scoring (103.1 points per game), 30th in field goal percentage (43.1) and 28th in 3-point percentage (33.4 percent) – have mostly soured their season and have been a major reason why they are in another unsightly skid.

``Obviously, we’d be better for sure,’’ Magic guard Evan Fournier said, referring to where the team could be if it could find its shooting rhythm. ``Obviously, the more balanced you are, with better offense and defense, the better you will be. We are obviously good defensively, but we just need to find ways to score on offense. But there are so many games this season where we didn’t win because we couldn’t score.’’

Orlando (22-31) enters tonight’s home game against the Atlanta Hawks (15-39) looking to get its offense on track in the two games remaining prior to the break for the NBA All-Star Game. The Magic are clinging to the No. 8 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference – three games ahead of No. 9 Washington – despite dropping eight of their last 10 games.

A new twist that could potentially spark the Magic offense is the expected debut of small forward James Ennis III, who was acquired just before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline in a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. In five NBA seasons, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Ennis III is a career 35.6 percent shooter from 3-point range – an area where the Magic obviously need major help. He’s worked over the past three days to get up to speed enough to contribute to the team tonight.

``He’s going to play some. He’s comfortable enough to play, and obviously we want to get him in there,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said of the small forward who will be playing with his seventh NBA franchise. ``I think he can be a big part of what we’re doing and there’s no reason to wait. We’ll just try to integrate him more and more as we go.

``The thing that I like about him is, when you talk to him the things that he wants to know are coverages and plays and not anything personal. It’s what are we doing in the high pick-and-roll and what are doing on the side pick-and-roll and what do we run more often offensively,’’ Clifford added. ``He’s a veteran guy who has been through this before and he’s focused on trying to get up to speed so that he can play.’’

The Magic’s latest loss – a 111-95 home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks – showcased the team’s shooting struggles. Against Milwaukee, Orlando shot just 37.8 percent overall and connected on only 10 of 40 3-point shots. When the Bucks buried 15 3-pointers, it meant that the Magic were outscored by 15 points from beyond the arc.

Magic center Nikola Vucevic (zero of seven) and forward Aaron Gordon (zero of six) struggled mightily to find the range from 3-point distance. Fournier (four 3-pointers) and Markelle Fultz (a career-best three 3-pointers) helped to keep Orlando within striking distance, but in the long run it simply couldn’t keep up because of the lack of pop offensively.

Atlanta might be the worst team for the Magic to face even though it has limped through a dismal 15-39 season. The Hawks are 2-0 this season against the Magic, winning in Atlanta on Oct. 26 (103-99) and in Orlando on Dec. 30 (101-93). In the most recent meeting, the Magic saw a sizeable first-half lead vanish when they got outscored 54-36 in the second half.

In those two games, Orlando has made just 62 of 188 (32.9 percent) and just 11 of 56 3-point shots (19.6 percent).

``They’ve played well against us and we’ve struggled to score both games,’’ Clifford said of facing the Hawks. ``The last game (on Dec. 30), we had a really good, energetic first half and then they had (dominant) stretches in the second half. (Kevin) Huerter was great with the game on the line. They’re hard to play against, very good energy and purpose of play. We’ll have to be able to defend them tonight.’’

The focus of the defense will undoubtedly be on trying to slow down guard Trae Young, who ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring (29.7 points per game) and second in assists (9.1) while shooting 44.4 percent overall and 37.3 percent from 3-point range. In Sunday night’s 140-135 double-overtime victory over New York, Young poured in 48 points and handed out 13 assists in 48 minutes. The Magic will try to throw different looks his way in an attempt to exhaust the 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard.

``You’re going to have have different coverages because he is shooting the ball from so deep,’’ Clifford said. ``I mean, we did two or three things today that we’ll try to do against him. But the reality is that they’ve seen enough double teams, as has he, so they are comfortable with it. Whatever you do, you’re going to have to things that work. You’re going to have to do things that keep him off balance, and you’re going to have to be able to execute.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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