Postgame Report: Magic Unable to Generate Enough Offense in Loss to Heat

by John Denton

ORLANDO – One year ago, almost to the day, the Orlando Magic started what would ultimately become a season-shifting 22-9 run to the playoffs with a stirring come-from-behind win over the Indiana Pacers that was fueled, in large part, by a torrid-shooting, 30-point performance by guard Terrence Ross.

Fast forward to Saturday at the Amway Center, and the Magic’s floundering fate could be summed up in the manner in which Ross struggled throughout to make shots or generate offense of any kind on another frustration-filled night.

With Ross struggling through a woeful two-of-11 shooting night, and his teammates similarly unable to generate much offense at all, the Magic looked light years away from the team that turned its season around this time of the season a year ago.

Instead, the Magic were hit with more misery on Saturday when their defense wasn’t nearly dominant enough and their offense badly stalled in the second half again and resulted in a painful 102-89 loss to the rival Miami Heat.

``I had good shots, but they just didn’t go in. I’ve just got to keep shooting,’’ said Ross, who was one of seven from beyond the 3-point line with that one made shot coming at the 2:47 mark of the fourth quarter. ``It’s hard to say (about how to generate more offense), but I definitely say shot-making is a part of it. We had good enough looks and we – or, at least I do – we’ve got to put more shots in the hole.’’

Orlando (21-28) lost for a fifth straight time and for the seventh time in its last eight games despite coming into Saturday having gotten a rare four-day break without games. The Magic hoped their time off would revitalize their sputtering offense and their spotty defense, but the first half was filled with defensive issues and the second half saw more poor shooting.

Orlando shot just 39.8 percent from the floor for the game and only 33.3 percent overall and three-of-15 accuracy from 3-point range in the second half. The Magic have made 40 percent-or-less of their field goals in each of their last four games – all of which they failed to crack 100 points. On the season, Orlando is 4-18 when failing to score at least 100 points.

``I think we are not playing with flow right now, we have no swag and a little bit of lack of confidence and, yeah, obviously, we’ve got to make shots,’’ said guard Evan Fournier, who made just three of 13 shots and two of seven 3-pointers in a mostly ineffective 12-point night. ``We’re not going to win scoring 89 points. We’ve got to step up and make plays.’’

Defensively, the Magic were hurt by their inability to finish off plays as Miami (33-15) held a 48-39 rebounding edge with 10 of those boards coming on the offensive end. Miami rookie guard Tyler Herro (23 points and six 3-pointers), Meyers Leonard (18 points, 14 rebounds and four 3-pointers) and all-star guard Jimmy Butler (24 points) took turns carving Orlando up as Miami shot 52.6 percent in the first half and finished with 15 3-pointers and 21 made free throws.

``Those (offensive rebounds) are killers,’’ said forward Aaron Gordon, who scored 16 of his 24 points in the first half to keep the Magic within striking distance. ``We had just talked about completing plays and completing defensive plays and we didn’t do that. We didn’t close out, didn’t box out and weren’t physical on the glass and it came back to bite us.’’

Following a first half of struggles defensively and plenty of offensive woes in the third quarter, the Magic managed to climb within 80-74 of the Heat with a little less than 10 minutes to play. However, Orlando’s defensive and rebounding issues returned when Herro and Leonard combined to drill three 3-pointers to all but seal the sputtering Magic’s fate.

``So, obviously, the statistics that stand out are the free throw differential and the 3-point shooting,’’ said Magic coach Steve Clifford, whose team was outscored by seven points at the free throw line and by 18 points at the 3-point arc. ``At least three of their threes were on offensive rebounds and effort plays. … There’s a lot of ways to look at it, but with the team that we have – even to start the year (before injuries), frankly – we’ve got to make those plays if we’re going to win.’’

The Magic stayed within striking distance for a half, but their sputtering offense let them down after intermission – a recurring theme of late during their losing skid. Badly outscored in the second halves of losses to Boston, the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami in recent days, the Magic got outscored in both the third (19-18) and fourth quarters (26-22) on Saturday.

For the game, Orlando made only nine of 33 3-point shots. Center Nikola Vucevic had 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while point guard Markelle Fultz added 11 points, six assists and four rebounds.

``Part of it is we have to just make our open looks and we had some (on Saturday) that we have to make,’’ Vucevic said. ``We’ve just got to keep moving the ball, trying to play for each other, try to find the open man, get some easy ones and get to the free throw line.

``I feel like we have these stretches where we kind of have a few possessions in a row where we don’t make the defense work and we settle and those hurt us,’’ Vucevic added. ``Those forced plays hurt us and it’s hard to set your defense off a shot that isn’t expected, and they get the long rebound and go. Those hurt us, but we’ve got to stick with it. Our offense has been a big issue for us all year long, but we’ve got to figure it out.’’

Saturday’s game was the third meeting of the season between the Magic and Heat – but the first where neither was at a major rest disadvantage. Orlando came into Saturday having had the rare four-day break between games, while Miami was coming off three days of rest.

When the Magic and Heat met on Monday in Miami, Orlando had faced the rugged Los Angeles Clippers a night earlier and they predictably struggled in the second half of a 113-92 loss at American Airlines Arena. A similar scenario – only in reverse – played out on Jan. 3 when the Magic dominated the fourth quarter of a 105-85 defeat of the Heat. In that game, Miami scored just six points and missed all 10 of its 3-point shots in the fourth quarter – a likely byproduct of playing a night earlier against the Toronto Raptors.

The Magic will spend a chunk of Super Bowl Sunday traveling as the team will depart in the mid-afternoon for Charlotte, where it will face the Hornets on Monday.

The Magic defeated the Hornets 106-83 in Charlotte on Jan. 20 in the final game of a 12-night road trip. Monday’s game is the first of a three-game road trip for the Magic. Orlando will face the Celtics in Boston on Wednesday and the Knicks in New York on Thursday. The Magic are 0-1 this season against the Celtics and 1-0 versus the Knicks.

Following a first half of defensive troubles that left them in an eight-point hole, the Magic struggled on the offensive end in the third period and found themselves behind 76-67 to the start of the fourth. Orlando opened the second half with two makes, but it ultimately made just seven of 22 shot attempts and only one of five threes in the third quarter.

Fournier, Orlando’s leading scorer most of the season, missed all three of his shot attempts in the third quarter and entered the fourth at just two-of-seven from the floor.

Ross, who was playing his first game in No. 31 after switching away from No. 8 in honor of Kobe Bryant, missed his first five 3-pointers and didn’t connect from beyond the arc until the 2:47 mark of the final period. With Orlando trailing by seven, Ross misfired on a 3-pointer that sealed the outcome.

Despite a season full of offensive struggles, Ross still feels the Magic have a run in them similar to the one they pulled off last season to reach the playoffs.

``It’s still a long season, and this is just the middle of the season,’’ Ross said. ``We’ve definitely got more, but we’ve just got to get it out of ourselves.’’

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.

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