Postgame Report: Magic vs. Raptors

by John Denton

ORLANDO – All one needed to know about the Orlando Magic’s struggles defensively early on Wednesday was this somewhat unbelievable fact: They made 21 of their first 27 shots – eight of them being 3-pointers – and yet they still trailed the Toronto Raptors.

While the Magic continue to play with the pass and go from good-to-great shots with their unselfishness offensively, their defense is very much a work in progress with far more questions than answers.

Orlando’s offense was spectacular most of Wednesday, allowing it to match the East-leading Raptors stride for stride through three quarters. But when Orlando continued to struggle getting stops – and a host of turnovers led to plenty of other run-out baskets – it proved to be downright deadly against one of the NBA’s most potent offenses.

Toronto shot 54.2 percent from the floor, scored 58 points in the paint and connected on 12 3-pointers in whipping the Magic 117-104 on a night when their own offense should have been good enough to win.

``We kind of lose the same way every night,’’ lamented Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had 17 points, four assists and three 3-pointers. ``We start well, we’re playing good and in the third quarter or fourth or whatever we let them get on a run and we never recover from it. They get too comfortable and once the lead is up to seven or eight, the lead keeps growing and we’re just never able to come back.’’

Orlando (18-43) shot 48.1 percent, drilled 13 3-pointers and placed seven players in double-digits in scoring, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the defensive woes. Those struggles led to the Magic’s seventh straight defeat – a skid that extends back to the Feb. 8 defeat of the Atlanta Hawks.

``We’re working at (the defense), that’s the frustrating part,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``We are game-planning and preparing. The drill work that we do defensively is probably more than anyone in the league is doing right now and we are just not seeing the results yet. We have to keep pounding the rock.’’

Toronto (43-17) came into Wednesday having scored at least 100 points in 12 straight games, going 10-2 in those games. Also, it was 18-1 on the season when scoring at least 120 points. At times early in the game, it seemed like the Raptors – third in the NBA in scoring (112.2 ppg.) and seventh in shooting (47.1 percent) – would hit triple digits early in the second half. The Magic are now 9-40 when surrendering at least 100 points.

``It’s been an issue for us all year long,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who had 14 points, six rebounds and three assists, referring to the defensive woes. ``We have to figure out how to do a better job defensively, follow the game plan, compete and make the extra effort out there. We don’t (make) enough of those plays consistently.

``Sometimes we have a couple of plays in a row where we do a good job, but it’s not enough there consistently for us,’’ Vucevic continued. ``We’re not a team that’s going to go out and outscore the great teams. And it shows when we try to do that – our record shows how that’s been working for us.’’

Forward Mario Hezonja was the offensive star of the Magic’s offense with his 17 points and three 3-pointers, while Jonathon Simmons chipped in 13 points. Shelvin Mack scored 12 off the bench, while starters Aaron Gordon and D.J. Augustin each had 11 points.

DeMar DeRozan scored 21 points, while fellow all-star Kyle Lowry added 17 points. Paccal Siakam (14 points) and Fred VanVleet (12 points) played well off Toronto’s bench, which badly outplayed Orlando’s reserves.

Wednesday’s game was the first back in Orlando for Serge Ibaka (nine points in 22 minutes) since the Magic traded him to the Raptors last February. Ibaka, who was acquired in a draft-night trade involving Victor Oladipo in June of 2016, spent just 56 games with the Magic last season before being dealt.

Orlando will be back on the practice floor on Thursday before facing a race home-and-home back-to-back set of games. On Friday, the Magic will face the Detroit Pistons at the Amway Center and they will host the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night.

The Magic got back-to-back 3-pointers from Hezonja and Shelvin Mack to close the third quarter and get within 90-89 of the Raptors. Hezonja, who is still adapting to moving back into a reserve role, was spectacular up to that point, making all four of his shots with three 3-pointers. Orlando hit just 10 of 22 shots in the third period, but it was able to outscore the Raptors 26-21 in the period to stay within striking distance.

However, that run would fade in the fourth quarter because of the inability in getting stops. Toronto had nine baskets in the paint and two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter alone and outscored the Magic 27-15 over the final 12 minutes.

``We have to understand that that (defensive) end has to be good for us,’’ Vucevic said. ``We have to be, just, solid. We don’t have to be perfect; just solid and try to get as many big plays as we can. We’re just not solid enough throughout the games.’’

Orlando hit 21 of its first 27 shots and eight of 10 from 3-point range and shot 58.1 percent in the first half, yet it still trailed 69-63 at intermission because of some ineffective defense. Toronto blitzed the Magic for 42 points in the first quarter – the second-most allowed by Orlando in a quarter this season – and it shot a torrid 63.4 percent from the field in the game’s first 24 minutes.

When the Raptors weren’t burning the Magic inside for dunks and 32 paint points, they were stroking in one 3-point shot after another. They made eight of their 13 attempts in the first half with five different players connecting from deep.

In the end, Orlando’s lack of steady defense ruined another stellar offensive showing. As Fournier pointed out, many of the losses now are starting to feel very much the same because of the troubling trend on the defensive end of the floor. Nothing will change, he said, until the Magic change their approach to getting stops defensively.

``We’re losing these games because we don’t get together defensively,’’ a frustrated Fournier fumed. ``If we want to change that we have to do a better job defensively.’’

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.