Postgame Report: Magic's Winning Streak Snapped

by John Denton

MILWAUKEE – Alternately solid offensively or defensively in recent games, but rarely both in the same night, the Orlando Magic came into Monday hoping to deliver the kind of balanced effort required to take down the streaking Milwaukee Bucks.

The Magic’s problem on Monday, however, was that while both their offense and defense played well in spurts, they never could string the two together for long enough periods of time.

Facing a Milwaukee team on a historic run of domination, the Magic played one of their best all-around games of the season, but they still came up frustratingly short in a 110-101 loss to the Bucks at Fiserv Forum.

``For the most part we played them a lot better in the second half,’’ said Magic guard Terrence Ross, who scored 16 of his 23 points after halftime. ``We start the game like that, and it would have been a much better night.’’

Orlando (11-12) saw its four-game winning streak come to an end, while East-leading Milwaukee (21-3) pushed its winning spree to 15 games. The Bucks came into the game having outscored foes by an NBA-best 13.6 points a game on the season and riding a four-game jag where it had outscored foes by 137 points – the second-largest point differential over a four-game, regular-season span in NBA history.

The Magic’s hopes of toppling the Bucks were undone by a zero-for-12 3-point shooting start to the night and some rebounding troubles when Milwaukee crashed the glass from its five-out sets. The Bucks outrebounded the Magic 54-44 and they used their 10 offensive rebounds to create 16 second-chance points.

``I mean, we didn’t rebound, and you can’t come on the road and get smacked on the glass like that,’’ said Magic head coach Steve Clifford, who fumed about the Bucks making seven of nine shots off second-chance tries. ``The bigger thing is – and I told them this in there (in the locker room) – there’s got to be some physicality. We haven’t rebounded now in the last five or six games, and you’re not going to win like that. There are certain things that you withstand, but we’re playing a different level of competition here from now until Christmas. We’ve got to rebound and defend every night and we didn’t do that (on Monday).’’

On this night, there would be no Milwaukee blowout because of the solid offensive efforts of Evan Fournier (26 points and four 3-pointers), Ross (23 points and four 3-pointers) and Markelle Fultz (13 points and nine assists) and the stellar defense of Jonathan Isaac (10 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots) and Aaron Gordon (10 points, 13 rebounds, one block and one steal).

``Especially against a team like that, we gave up too many hustle points and second-chance points and that was a big factor in the game,’’ Gordon said. ``We cut those down and we feel like we can compete with this team.’’

Added Isaac: ``That’s part of what we pride ourselves on, so it was hard to let that (rebounding) piece of the defense get away from us. We started off rough, but the more comfortable we got and the more we got into the game, we started to make some shots.’’

Ross drilled a 3-pointer as he was fouled by Eric Bledsoe with 50.2 seconds to play to get Orlando within 107-101. However, he missed the subsequent free throw following a Coach’s Challenge by Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks made Orlando pay for the miss, answering with a Khris Middleton 3-pointer that cinched the outcome.

Down as much as 18 points in the first half because of some unsightly shooting, the Magic got as close as three late in the third period. Orlando was within seven with 6:24 to play when Fultz split the lane and found Isaac for a dunk, but the Magic could never push any closer because of the dynamic efforts of superstar forward Giannis Antetokoumpo.

The NBA’s reigning MVP – and the heavy favorite to win the award again – carved up the Magic for 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. Orlando used Isaac and Gordon on him throughout the game, but his combination of length and strength gave those stellar defenders fits. Antetokounmpo even drilled two 3-pointers in the game when the Magic left him open on the perimeter.

Middleton (20 points and four 3-pointers) and long-time Magic killer George Hill (10 points) gave Antetokounmpo plenty of support. Milwaukee shot 46.7 percent overall and hit 16 of 41 3-pointers, while Orlando connected on 38 percent of its shots and 10 of 31 3-point tries.

Orlando came into Monday riding a season-best four-game win streak. However, that feel-good spree came against the likes of the downtrodden Golden State Warriors and perennial dregs such as Washington, Phoenix and Cleveland. On Monday, the Magic tried shooting their shot against the league’s hottest team and missed.

Orlando got a taste of Milwaukee’s dominance early in the season in a humbling 123-91 loss at the Amway Center on Nov. 1. In that game, the Magic made eight of their first nine shots and actually led by as much as 13 points in the early going. However, the game turned around dramatically thanks to Milwaukee’s 3-point shooting and the Bucks led by as much as 23 in the second quarter and by 34 in a runaway second half.

The Magic will be back on the Amway Center parquet on Wednesday to face the surging Los Angeles Lakers. Led by the play of LeBron James (25.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 10.8 assists) and Davis (27.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.68 blocks), the Lakers have won four in a row and 14 of the last 15 games.

Dwight Howard, the first pick of the 2004 NBA Draft by Orlando and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner while leading the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, has enjoyed a solid bounce-back season in his second stint with the Lakers. Howard is averaging 7.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots while shooting 74.2 percent from the field in 24 games off the bench.

Down 12 at intermission after sputtering offensively in the early going, Orlando’s offense came alive behind the shooting of Ross and Fournier in the third period. Ross scored 11 in the third period and Fournier had six more in the period as the Magic got to within 78-73 by the start of the fourth.

Orlando had as many field goals in the third quarter (13) as it did in the entire first half (13). Making matters even better, the Magic drilled six of nine 3-point shots just after halftime. That had to be somewhat shocking to the Bucks considering that Orlando misfired on its first 12 attempts from beyond the arc early in the game.

``We played well, period, but we just had a lot of open shots in the first half when we didn’t score,’’ said Fournier, who hit two 3-pointers in the last minute of the first half after his team missed its first 12 shots from beyond the arc to open the game. ``We had open shots that we just couldn’t make. They have a good defense and they do their stuff well. They give up threes and midrange, but everything is contested. They make you work for everything, but in the first half we just couldn’t score.’’

The highlight of the first half – for either team, really – was the way Isaac played defensively. The 6-foot-10 power forward, who came into the night first in the NBA in blocked shots per game at 2.75 a night, blocked the first two Milwaukee shots of the game, and three of the Bucks’ first seven tries in the opening 2 minutes and 45 seconds. His block total climbed to four by the 3:28 mark of the first period when he stuffed Antetokounmpo on a drive attempt to keep the game tied at 18.

Isaac’s four first-quarter blocks were just shy of Howard’s franchise record for blocks in a quarter. The former Magic standout registered six blocks in the third quarter of a game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves back on Nov. 3, 2010.

``I don’t want to say surprised, but I’m just trying to do my job,’’ Isaac said when asked if he’s shocked that teams keep testing his long-armed defense at the rim. ``There are going to be layups all night and I’m always gonna hope that I can get a couple.’’

Things quickly went downhill for the Magic over the final 3 minutes of the first period, ruining their stellar start. Milwaukee scored 13 straight points – nine of them coming off 3-point shots that were either created by Bucks’ offensive rebounds or Orlando turnovers.

That poor stretch left the Magic in a 31-20 hole at the end of the first period.

``Offensively, we played pretty in the second half when a lot of people stepped up and made shots,’’ Gordon said. ``That’s what it’s going to come down to – making open shots. I know, personally, I need to play better for us to win. I take it upon myself to do that.’’

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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