Magic Still Searching for Consistency

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

MILWAUKEE – Considering the Magic’s zig-zag nature through five games – locked in some nights and off track on others – their next opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks, could have their hands full if Orlando responds as it has before this season.

Then again, if the Magic don’t find some measure of consistency rather quickly, they could be headed for another frustrating night at the hands of superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potent Bucks.

The Magic (2-3) have been a tough team to figure out thus far as they have been about as up and down as one of the rides at the nearby theme parks in Orlando. Orlando won its opener against Miami, fell flat against Charlotte and responded with solid performances against Eastern Conference powerhouses Philadelphia (a one-point loss) and Boston (a three-point victory).

However, the Magic were unable to build much momentum off the defeat of Celtics when they got mostly shredded defensively by Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers in Thursday’s 128-114 loss at the Amway Center. Which Magic team hits the floor on Saturday at Milwaukee’s new, state-of-the-art Fiserv Forum is somewhat in question considering its sporadic nature. Ultimately, Orlando wants to grow into a squad that will be consistent in its preparation, effort and production.

``It’s our next step in maturity. As we continue to grow as a team and grow together, we’ll get better at being more consistent,’’ said Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, who clearly has a maturity well beyond his 21 years of age.

In addition to dissecting the film from Thursday’s game, Magic head coach Steve Clifford lectured his team on the importance of preparation going into games. He was upset that Orlando allowed Blazers’ backups Zach Collins and Seth Curry to be so effective early in the game, and that the Magic blew several coverages when Lillard came off screens. Lillard scored 34 of his 41 points in the second half, including 15 in the decisive fourth quarter, to ensure Orlando’s second loss in three home games.

``I think one of the assets of our team should be that we have a smart team, but smart is only going to come out if you have the right concentration and intensity,’’ Clifford said. ``Like every other team, we have to find that every-night focus and sometimes that takes a while to (accomplish).

``In the two games that we’ve had the best focus, we’ve played well, and we’ve had two good defensive games and three (defensive efforts) that just aren’t good enough,’’ Clifford said, referring initially to wins against Miami and Boston. ``If we’re going to win, we can get better offensively, but we’re not going to be a top-five offense – we’re just not. But we can be a really good defensive team and that’s where it’s got to start.’’

Forward Aaron Gordon, who has earned high praise from Clifford for his defensive and rebounding improvements, said the Magic must have better focus and intensity if they want to be a playoff-contending team this season. Late defensive errors cost Orlando a victory in Philadelphia when it had surged into the lead twice in the final 90 seconds. On Thursday, Orlando pulled to within three of Portland in the fourth quarter only to surrender three straight baskets – two of them 3-pointers off high pick-and-roll plays – to end the chances of a victory.

``We’ve got to concentrate, execute and hold each other accountable on the defensive end,’’ Gordon said. ``We hold each other accountable on the offensive end, but we have to do that on both sides of the floor. … I think we have a lot of potential and ability, but it’s just a matter of whether we’re going to do it or not. Each game, we’ve got to have a standard and play the way that we know how.’’

Gordon and Isaac will have the monumental task of trying to slow down dynamic forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is expected to be a leading candidate to win the NBA’s MVP award this season. Not only did he lead Milwaukee to wins in its first four games but heading into Friday’s game in Minnesota he was averaging 28.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.75 blocks and 1.0 steals a game. He battered the Philadelphia 76ers for another triple-double (32 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists) as Milwaukee stormed back in the second half for a 123-108 victory.

``His passing ability is really good, he’s gotten stronger and he’s gotten taller since he’s been in the league and he’s starting to make jumpers,’’ Gordon said of the player nicknamed ``The Greek Freak’’ because of his rare combination of size, length and athleticism. ``It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge.’’

Added Isaac, who will share the duties of covering Antetokounmpo and forward Khris Middleton (24.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game): ``Me and A.G., we have to take it as a personal challenge to do our best and keep (Antetokounmpo) at bay and not have to (rely) on so much help. It’s just about being focused on what he likes to do and do our best to lock him down.’’

Lock Antetokounmpo and Middleton down and the Magic should have a shot of winning again and getting back to being the team they feel they can be. That will only be accomplished, Clifford said, when the Magic figure out the components of their good games and what’s missing when they play poorly.

``I think this first group of games allows you to determine, `When we do this, we play well,’ and what we’re capable of doing,’’ Clifford said. ``I think we’re capable of being really good defensively. And offensively, when the ball is moving and it’s moving freely and the pace of our offense is quick, those are the characteristics of how we have to play.’’

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