Postgame Report: Magic vs. Timberwolves

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

MINNEAPOLIS – The Orlando Magic’s easy, breezy, feel-good start to Friday night’s game apparently lulled them into believing that they were well on their way to another one-sided rout of a struggling foe.

Instead, all the strong offensive start did was mask their struggles defensively in slowing down the play of point guard Jeff Teague and standout center Karl-Anthony Towns. In the end, the Magic’s uneven play in game mirrored their inconsistent play on the season and resulted in another frustration-filled defeat.

Orlando made 26 of its first 34 shots and built a 19-point first-half lead only to struggle on both ends of the floor the rest of the way in a disappointing 120-103 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.

``We were just lazy, undisciplined and soft,’’ fumed Magic forward Aaron Gordon, referring to an Orlando defense that allowed Minnesota to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor. ``We didn’t have it tonight on the defensive end and it’s not OK at this point in the season.’’

Orlando (17-21) scored 40 first-half points and tied a season-best with 68 points in a half, but it slowed to a crawl late in the second quarter and saw it carry over in the third period to ruin the night against the Timberwolves (18-21). Winners in Chicago on Wednesday and on a streak of three victories in the past four games, the Magic looked to be well on their way to more success on Friday. Then, the bottom fell out of their offense and defense.

``We just did a bad job defensively and I thought the readiness to play defensively wasn’t there,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had 21 points and was Orlando’s lone bright spot offensively in the second half. ``As starters, we played soft defensively and you can’t have that. When you score that much on the road, you should be winning. It was just a poor effort.’’

Incredibly, a Magic team that once led 63-44 with 6:28 left in the first half got outscored 61-26 over parts of three different quarters. Sitting at 76.4 percent shooting midway through the second period, Orlando made just 16 of 54 shots (29.6 percent) the rest of the way. For the game, the Magic shot 47.7 percent and they were outrebounded 54-35 by Minnesota.

Orlando’s fast start offensively mostly hid its defensive woes. The Timberwolves shot 60.9 percent in the first quarter, 58.1 percent in the opening half and 56.7 percent through three periods. Towns scored 29 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, while Teague – long a Magic-killer who was playing for the first time in 10 games because of an ankle injury – scored 23 points and handed out 10 assists.

``In the first time out, one of the assistants said, `We’re not ready to defend,’’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``We didn’t have nearly the defensive effort or mentality that we needed. And when things started to slip away, we stopped running the same quality of offense. (The Timberwolves) picked up their ball pressure, they were more physical, and they pushed us out and that’s when you have to be disciplined about running your stuff, playing for each other and moving the ball, which we didn’t do.

``And (Minnesota’s) Teague lived in the paint,’’ Clifford added. ``He set the tone right away and we were never able to stop his pick-and-roll and penetration.’’

No one exemplified the topsy-turvy nature of the Magic’s offense on Friday more than center Nikola Vucevic (22 points) and guard Terrence Ross (13 points). Vucevic had 14 first-quarter points, but he scored just four over the next two quarters as Minnesota was pulling away. Meanwhile, Ross had 11 by halftime, but finished with just 13 points on five-of-14 shooting.

``We knew that we weren’t getting stops because they were shooting like 60 percent at the half. Then, we stopped making shots and we never picked up our defensive effort,’’ said Vucevic, who made his first six shots and finished 10 of 16 from the floor. ``If we had played better defense with the way we were scoring early on, we would have had an even bigger lead. But, given them credit, they stayed with it and played a great second half.’’

Gordon chipped in 10 points, six assists and three rebounds, while second-year forward Jonathan Isaac scored 10 points, swiped two steals and blocked a shot. Mo Bamba had five points, three rebounds and three blocked shots off the Orlando bench.

Orlando was two nights removed from a 112-84 whipping of the Bulls in Chicago. The Magic looked to be on their way to another lopsided victory on Friday, before their offense ground to a halt and their defense never showed up.

``We’ve had wakeup calls like this and we know what we have to do and that’s defend for 48 minutes,’’ Vucevic said. ``Offensively, we have to play smart. When things don’t go our way, we go away from what works for us. We have to stay consistent. When the ball moves and we play inside-out, we’re very efficient, so we have to understand that we have to play like that every game. None of us are going to become Kevin Durant, Steph Curry or James Harden. The only way we win is by staying efficient and sharing the ball.’’

The Magic’s 11-day, six-game road trip next heads West where they will play the Clippers in Los Angeles on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Clippers, under the direction of former Magic coach Doc Rivers, have given Orlando fits in recent years. Including a 120-95 loss in Orlando on Nov. 2, the Magic have lost 10 straight games to the Clippers. Five of those losses to the Clippers have come in Los Angeles. The Magic haven’t beaten the Clippers in L.A. since Jan. 12, 2013. That season was the last time the Magic beat the Clippers and Lakers in Los Angeles in the same season. The Magic have already swept the Lakers this season, winning in Orlando and Los Angeles in November.

After playing the Clippers on Sunday, Orlando faces Sacramento (Monday) and Utah (Wednesday) before finally returning to Central Florida.

``I mean I’m not worried about us and I know that we will respond the right way, but it’s not going to change the fact that we dropped one here,’’ Fournier said. ``I have confidence that we’re going to play a good ball game against the Clippers, but it’s too late (to erase Friday’s loss to Minnesota).’’

Up just four at the half after squandering most of their 19-point lead, the Magic sputtered offensively and got overwhelmed defensively by Teague and Anthony in the third period. Minnesota outscored Orlando 31-17 in the third period largely by holding the Magic to seven-of-23 shooting in the period.

Orlando had little going outside of Fournier’s 10 points in the period. Vucevic had 14 in the early going, but he scored just four points over the next 30 minutes.

``We were making shots and they were missing shots early on, but really everything was just too easy for them all night,’’ Gordon said referring to his team’s lack of defensive fight. ``Offensively, we’ve got to move it to move it sometimes and we’ve got to take wide-open shots. We’ve got to move the ball and move our bodies and play with a high motor. And if we’re not getting stops, we can’t get out and run.’’

Orlando led 68-64 at the half, but that advantage had to be somewhat disappointing considering that it once led by as much as 19 points thanks to some torrid early shooting. The 68 points tied the Magic’s high for a half, equaling the 68 scored earlier this season against the Lakers.

After an early timeout, the Magic started pulling away from the Timberwolves by drilling their next eight consecutive shots. By the end of the first quarter, Orlando had drilled 73.9 percent of its shots and led 40-31.

The torrid offensive stretch, set up by some crisp ball movement and stellar shooting, extended into the second quarter and by the time that the Magic had made 26 of their first 34 shots (76.4 percent), they had a seemingly safe 63-44 advantage.

Of course, they couldn’t keep up that pace all game. Over the final 6:28 of the first half, the Magic made just two of 14 shots, allowing the Wolves to get within four by intermission.

A team with a small margin for error and one that needs several players to perform well on both ends of the floor, the Magic would be best served by understanding what leads to success and what leads to frustrating nights like Friday. Clifford feels the Magic don’t always play with the same desperation from game to game and even in the middle of games they strangely stray from what works.

``I don’t know if we don’t understand, but we’re inconsistent and that’s what the NBA is all about,’’ Clifford said of his team’s need to have a strong approach to every game. ``I don’t know if it’s identity, but it’s about understanding what you have to do to play well. We have to defend every night. … Tonight, our defense was bad.’’

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