Orlando Magic vs. Milwaukee Bucks: Game Preview

Magic vs. Bucks
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic get their first opportunity to exact revenge on the Milwaukee Bucks since they were eliminated by the 2020 NBA Eastern Conference’s No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs last season.

The Magic (6-4) host the Bucks (6-4) at Amway Center on Monday at 7 p.m. ET as Orlando debuts their most recent City Edition uniforms.

In order to pull off a victory, improving the team’s perimeter defense as well as their ability to guard high pick-and-rolls will be of the upmost importance.

“Tonight, we don’t have to be perfect, but we have to do what we do, Magic basketball, to be able to give ourselves a chance,” Magic forward Gary Clark explained.

The Magic spent much of their shootaround focusing on staying connected defensively, a key factor against a Bucks squad that ranks second in the league in three-point shooting percentage.

“The key to defending them on the perimeter is just that we have to stay in our help spots, honestly,” Magic swingman Dwayne Bacon said. “In the games that we’ve lost, we tend to wander off and leave a guy on a one-man island and we can’t do that.”

After a five-game playoff series with the Bucks in the NBA bubble last season, the Magic are all too familiar with the dangers of defending two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can wreak havoc by driving into the paint and kicking out to open shooters when defenses decide to collapse upon him.

“The main key as we all know is Giannis, just not letting guys play one-on-one with him,” Bacon said. “He’s a big-time player and can singlehandedly win a game if we just keep letting him get around the basket. So, our goal is to limit him in transition, for one, because he’s a beast in transition, and then, try to limit him in half court of just getting downhill and attacking guys one-on-one and having that help.”

Year after year, the Bucks possess one of the league’s best defenses. Although they’re still finding their footing defensively this season – as most teams in the NBA are – one area the Magic can look to exploit is taking advantage of open looks from the outside. Milwaukee often challenges Orlando to knock down shots from the perimeter and it will likely look to do the same tonight.

“The way they play defense is they’re going to leave us to shoot a lot of threes,” Bacon said. “If we can come out and have our guys hot from the start, we’ll be fine. We have some good shooters. We just have to get repetition.”

A number of Magic players, according to Bacon, stayed after shootaround to get extra reps as Orlando looks to break out of a slight shooting slump.

“For me personally, early on, I couldn’t throw it in the ocean, but as time is trickling on, they’re starting to fall down and I think that’s the tale of our team and (what) our mindset has to be going forward,” Clark said. “Keep shooting them, don’t take tough ones, be ready to shoot them and take appropriate shots.”

IN AND OUT: Evan Fournier will once again be out as he deals with back spasms. His shooting, spacing and shot creation are heavily missed by an Orlando team that currently desperately needs all of those elements.

The team also announced that James Ennis III (right hamstring injury management) is questionable to play against the Bucks.

Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee rehabilitation), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left foot), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Chuma Okeke (left knee bone bruise) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) are all out.

For Milwaukee, Torrey Craig (nasal; fracture surgery) is out, while Antetokounmpo (back spasms) is probable.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It will be great to see D.J. (Augustin). He’s one of my favorite teammates (of all-time). I enjoyed playing with him. We had a really good chemistry on the court.” – Magic center Nikola Vucevic on Augustin, who will face his former team for the first time since signing with the Bucks this offseason.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, I brought in special guest, Jim Owczarski, an award-winning journalist covering the Bucks for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and jsonline.com. Prior to that, he was the publication’s beat writer for the Green Bay Packers. However, my ties to Jim go back even further to when he covered the Cincinatti Bengals and was the co-host of one my favorite podcasts at the time, the Bengals Beat Podcast. He was kind enough to take a moment on Sunday to answer a few key questions about the Bucks:

Savage: “How has Jrue Holiday acclimated to the Bucks and what has he brought to the organization?”

Owczarski: “He’s fit in very well. He’s clearly the floor leader already in terms of setting pace and really facilitating offense when he’s on the court. The ability to get into the paint and then create from there, whether it be kicking out or if there’s lane fillers around him, his ability to pass out of traffic is really surprising for Bucks fans, who maybe didn’t see a whole lot of him in the last seven years in New Orleans. On the defensive end, he’s everything as advertised. He’s still adjusting to (Head Coach) Mike Budenholzer’s drop coverages and the fact that they don’t typically switch on pick-and-rolls. Holiday has said he would like to do that. So, they may work that in to suit his strengths. Defensively, very good, but that’s still a work in progress. Offensively, you can see he’s set a tone for them in terms of running the offense.”

Savage: “What have you seen from former Magic point guard D.J. Augustin and how are the Bucks utilizing him?”

Owczarski: “I think it’s taken a little longer for him to find his footing. He’s the seventh man off the bench and the Bucks do like to use him with Holiday, and not necessarily to run point either. He’s come off and Giannis Antetokounmpo has run the offense and Holiday and Augustin are off ball. They kind of like that ability for another shooter for Giannis to kick to. They can do some smaller pick-and-roll stuff with Holiday. I think they like the options he presents. But in terms of the raw numbers, he’s not shooting it very well right now, so I think there’s been a little bit of an acclimation process with him finding his game. Clearly, (he's) the point guard off the bench. They’re okay with him facilitating and setting up Khris Middleton, Holiday, some of the other guys when it’s his turn to do that, but they’re definitely trying to work him in, in different ways. Defensively, that’s where the Bucks are still trying to find themselves with all of these new players, Augustin included. Is he the staunchest one-on-one defender? Probably not at this point in his career. But again, they’re still trying to figure out how to mix and match all of these bench guys into Budenholzer’s scheme.

Savage: “The Magic are obviously familiar with the Bucks having played them in the playoffs last season, but in terms of this season’s team, outside of Giannis, what are the biggest strengths of this Bucks team and what are some of the weaknesses right now?”

Owczarski: “I would say the strength is their shooting. They’ve hit a little bit of a lull the last two games – I’m not sure where they rank right now – but they were number one in three-point percentage going into last night’s game. D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, Jrue Holiday, I think they are better shooters. So, when Giannis does kick it out, while there is still a volume of threes as there has been the last few years, they are making more of them. Giannis said he’s more comfortable kicking it out to some of those guys on the outside, even here in the early going. I think that’s a strength. I do think Holiday and Bobby Portis are able to create shots. Again, that was an emphasis for (General Manager) Jon Horst with a lot of these moves. Portis has surprised people, at least initially, that he can, not that he can get whatever he wants – he is a sixth man and a role player – but with Giannis, with Middleton, with Holiday, he’s been in more favorable situations to date and has been able to provide a spark. So, I would say the shot making, the shot creation outside of Giannis and the other All-Star, Khris Middleton has been a strength.

For a weakness, look, they’re six and four, so they are not there yet defensively. I don’t know if we’d call that a weakness. It’s just not to their standards yet. You can find creases and get to the paint right now. That wasn’t a thing that most teams could do consistently. Cleveland and Andre Drummond really took it to them inside. Utah played a lot of smaller pick-and-roll with their guards, so not only did that open up some threes the other night, but they had some more layups. Look, Bobby Portis has never played a drop D. So, there are times where he is not where he should be or there are times where they over help and then those wing threes, those corner threes are wide open. I think because they’re not as tight around the rim, you add in those threes that they’ve given up over the years, you’re seeing teams score points on them a little bit at times.

Those would be the two big, overarching areas for them."

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