Orlando Magic at Milwaukee Bucks: Game Preview

Mychal Mulder
by Dan Savage

For a young Orlando Magic, their back-to-back road set with the Milwaukee Bucks can provide a number of benefits.

Not only do they get to gauge their progress against the defending champions, but they also get to simulate some aspects of a playoff series by staying in the same city for two straight contests, making adjustments and reacting to the other team’s counters all while going against top-tier competition.

The Magic (4-13) will look to bounce back against the Bucks (9-8) on Monday at 8 p.m. ET as Orlando closes out its five-game road trip with its second straight contest in Milwaukee.

While the Magic were unable to pull out a victory against the Bucks on Saturday night, they did display plenty of grit, fight, and determination as they rallied back from a 29-point deficit and pulled within six points of Milwaukee with just over two minutes left before eventually dropping a 117-108 decision.

“Their aggressiveness, and their energy, and their toughness, and their resiliency, and never giving up no matter what was going on out there,” Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley said of his team’s effort. “Our energy, and our intensity, and our fight, and our will just to keep going no matter what was happening during that game. From twenty-nine down to keep fighting, that’s what that group is about. They stayed ready. They worked when they are not playing games. But they showed that they are willing to come out there and fight.”

Orlando will once again be without Cole Anthony (right ankle sprain). While Jalen Suggs handled primary point guard duties with the Magic’s leading scorer sidelined, R.J. Hampton did an admirable job filling in as the backup ballhandler. In 28 minutes of action, the 6-foot-6 second-year player matched his career high with 19 points to go along with nine assists.

“I think he did a very good job of understanding and slowing down as the game went on,” Mosley said of Hampton. “He had a very good defender on him at times in Jrue Holiday, so he did a great job of taking care of the basketball and bringing the ball over half court and getting us into our sets. So, I was very proud and pleased with the effort that R.J. gave as well as his ability to help make decisions and make plays down the stretch.”

With Gary Harris (sprained right hand) also expected to be out, the Magic will look to keep Hampton with the second unit and serve as the backup point guard, while elevating another player who stood out on Saturday to the starting lineup.

Mychal Mulder, who is on a two-way contract with Orlando, fired off 10 of his season-high 13 points in the fourth quarter to help lead the Magic’s rally. His ability to knock down the outside shot can help space the floor for Orlando with a number of its guards sidelined due to injury.

“He’s been great. He’s been a professional the entire time,” said Mosley of Mulder. “He’s come from a great organization. He does a really good job with our guys of communicating the things that he sees, the things that he knows work. He’s done a great job with us of staying ready. That proved itself the other night.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It means something to me. It’s good. It’s important. I think they know that I’ve been ready and been staying ready throughout the whole beginning of my start here. It’s good that they can show confidence in me. Obviously, I plan to go out and play well with those guys out.” – Mulder on getting the opportunity to start on Monday against the Bucks

KEY STAT: In the fourth quarter, the Magic are currently averaging a league-best 28.9 points per game (as of Sunday morning). The Suns, Jazz, Knicks, and Bulls rank second, third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in this category.

The Magic have also made 63 threes in the final frame, tied with the Bucks and Trail Blazers for the most in the NBA. Read more about Orlando’s late-game output here.

IN AND OUT: Anthony (sprained right ankle), Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Harris (sprained right hand), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), and E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) are all out for Orlando.

For Milwaukee, Rodney Hood (right hamstring soreness) is probable, while Donte DiVincenzo (left ankle), Brook Lopez (back soreness), and Semi Ojeleye (right calf soreness) are out.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of the Rivals Report, we’re joined by Jim Owczarski, an award-winning journalist covering the Bucks for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and jsonline.com. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the team ahead of their back-to-back set with the Magic.

Savage: “Due to illness and injury, we haven’t seen too much of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday all on the floor together at the same time this season. But when you have seen that trio out on the court together, what have you seen out of the Bucks’ big three?”

Owczarski: “In a lesser way, it looks like the way they finished a year ago. Meaning, Jrue Holiday coming up with a defensive stop when needed on the player they need to get that stop against. Khris Middleton hitting very clutch mid-range jump shots. And Giannis Antetokounmpo just being Giannis, quite frankly, in the paint, working off pick-and-rolls with those two, (and) really forcing defenses to make a hard decision. So, yes, they have only played in four games together. It’s only been two games since Khris Middleton’s return from COVID-19, but you definitely see the three of them looking like the three of them in spurts, we’ll call it, because it clearly isn’t all the way back yet for (the Bucks).”

Savage: “Khris Middleton passed Ray Allen for the franchise’s all-time three-pointers made record. What has he meant to the Bucks since he arrived there?”

Owczarski: “He joked that he told Giannis after the game, ‘just let me have one record and I’ll be fine with it.’ (laughter) He actually admitted that it was a goal of his to become the franchise record holder and pass Ray Allen, which as you know is sort of rare for athletes to admit to such things in the moment. The reason I preface my answer with that, Dan, is to say that I think it means a lot to Khris and also Khris means a lot to the organization. Look before Giannis and the supermax, Khris Middleton had signed two contract extensions. He was the first one. Now, you can argue back during those extensions that he wasn’t an All-Star. I know (when he signed) his second extension, people wondered, was he a max player? And there was a lot of handwringing over that. But he was the first one to call Milwaukee home and stay. And I think when you set franchise records that speaks to career length and your skill level. Overall, when the history, especially if this team makes another Eastern Conference Finals run or Finals run, and people look back, it’s going to have to start with Khris Middleton and Giannis coming to organization in 2013. But, also, with Khris Middleton electing to stay and what happened in the years after that.”

Savage: “This season for the Bucks will ultimately be judged by how far they go in the postseason. For Milwaukee to put itself in position to make another championship run, what do you feel is the one thing that needs to happen that maybe people nationally are not talking about or don’t quite notice?”

Owczarski: “It’s funny because on one hand it’s a cliché, but it fits into that specific question, Dan. What I mean by that is health, specifically the health of center Brook Lopez. This is a guy who hasn’t played since the season opener, and I don’t know if on a national level if it’s been talked about at all. I can’t say that I consume everything national NBA media-wise, but I don’t think that it has definitely registered to any degree. And I’d argue that it’s played maybe a larger role in the Bucks’ slow start on both ends of the court than even Khris Middleton missing eight games with COVID-19. This Bucks’ defense, I don’t want to say has crumbled, but they are less than average (without Lopez). Offensively, the spacing hasn’t been great. Also, quite frankly, they haven’t been able to score in the paint very well, and that’s saying something when you have arguably the best attacker of the rim in basketball. So, I do think while it’s a cliché, oh it’s health and you could point to every team, I think this team and anyone who watches them has found out just how valuable Brook Lopez is.

Then, I would say off of that, now that Middleton is back, to find out where Grayson Allen fits in the offense. He really stepped up when Holiday missed games, when Middleton missed games, averaging almost sixteen points a game. There was a stretch where he was shooting over fifty percent from three. Look, those shots are going away. They may still be open, but the volume isn’t going to be there. So, I think they’re going to recalibrate that and figure out how to play off one another, where he’s going to go, where he’s going to get his looks, because frankly, he’s not Bryn Forbes. I think he’s a little more dynamic of an offensive player with these guys and they’re going to need him to score buckets. They’re just going to have to figure out how to do it once Middleton is back at his full minutes workload.”

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