Magic Know Unselfish Play is Key to Brighter Future

By John Denton
Jan. 15, 2018

ORLANDO – Back on Friday in Washington, when the Orlando Magic were whipping the ball around the perimeter, involving all five players in the offense and finding cutters and open shooters for easy baskets, it was as if a bit of the past collided with the present.

Going forward, the Magic are hoping that style of play will be in their immediate future as well.

When the Magic handed out 32 assists, drilled 12 3-pointers, shot 51.2 percent from the floor and scored 119 points against the Wizards, they laid a framework for how they need and want to play.

In looking forward at how they want their offense to function, the Magic (12-31) would be wise to look back into their recent past at how their season started. Early in the season, when the Magic were 6-2 and later 8-4, they scored at least 110 points in 10 of those first 12 games by whipping the ball from side to side and inside to outside and by sharing it to get not just good shots, but great shots.

In the future – starting on Tuesday night against the torrid Minnesota Timberwolves (29-16) at the Amway Center – the Magic hope to learn from past successes to blaze a brighter future.

``We just need to learn. That’s all it comes down to – for the rest of the season. We need to learn,’’ said forward Aaron Gordon, who played a major role in sparking the ball movement by tying a career high with seven assists on Friday. ``Each game needs to be a way we can learn as a group, learn as a basketball team and learn as an organization. It’s what you learn after you know it all – that’s big.’’

The Magic hope to learn lots from a game on Friday where all five starters were in double figures in scoring and three players (Elfrid Payton, Jonathon Simmons and Bismack Biyombo) topped the 20-point plateau. Eight players had at least one assist and five of them had at least three passes that led to baskets. The 32 assists were the most since a Dec. 9 loss in Atlanta when the Magic registered a season-best 39 assists – a game where injured center Nikola Vucevic (fractured left hand) had a career-best 10 assists en route to the first triple-double of his career.

Now, following a three-day break between games, the Magic have to prove that they can carry over that ball-sharing style to Tuesday’s game.

``That’s what we’re all hoping for – to play this way every night,’’ said Biyombo, who made eight of nine shots and had five dunks on Friday on his way to his highest scoring night as a pro. ``When we talked about a winning culture early (in the season), that’s trusting the next guy. If we are able to trust the next guy, then we give ourselves a chance to win. In order for us to do this, we have to be able to trust the next guy. We just have not done it consistently enough.’’

To make their improved offense stand up, the Magic know that their defense must improve greatly. They were shredded for 74 paint points and 56.8 percent shooting on Friday in Washington, meaning their improved offensive play resulted in a 125-119 loss.

Head coach Frank Vogel went to work on trying to fix what ails the Magic’s defense on Monday. He knows full well that no matter how well the Magic play offensively, they will have little chance to win if their defense doesn’t improve. That’s why Vogel broke the team’s defense down to the most basic of levels on Monday. When the Magic can pair great offensive ball movement with stingy defense, they will finally be able to string together some success, he said.

``Offensively, we played the right way and when we do that we’re really tough to guard. But we’ve got to make sure that we improve on the defensive end, and it’s that simple,’’ Vogel said. ``We watched all of the areas where we could be better and we did a lot of training-camp-level breakdown defensive drills to try to get better. Hopefully, we’ll see some results (on Tuesday).’’

Orlando’s offensive and defensive improvements will be put to the test against Minnesota, winners of five straight games by double digits. The Timberwolves wrapped up just the second 5-0 home stand in franchise history on Monday when they thumped Portland 120-103.

That Minnesota victory – one where the T-Wolvss held the Blazers to just 10 points in the second quarter – was reminiscent of Orlando’s loss in Minnesota on Nov. 22. That night, Orlando was within three at the half, but fell apart completely in the third quarter and was outscored 41-18. The Magic rallied late to make things close, but defensive woes and an inability to slow down Minnesota’s star-studded roster led to a 124-118 defeat.

Vogel knows that the Magic will have to play better on both ends of the floor to beat the surging Timberwolves.

``They’ve got all-star-level players at just about every position,’’ Vogel said. ``And when you’ve got a defensive-minded coach like (Tom Thibodeau) making them work on that end of the floor with the offensive firepower that they have, it’s no surprise that they’re winning at a high level.’’

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.