Offensive excellence carries Orlando Magic to 4-1

One of the NBA's worst offensive teams last season, the Magic have blossomed into one of the best in 2017-18

Dan McCarney, NBA.com

One could be forgiven for thinking the Magic’s recent thrashing of the Cavaliers was a fluke.

It’s still October, after all, with the Cavaliers coming off their third straight Finals while the Magic haven’t even made the playoffs since 2011-12.

That’s also the last time the Magic started 4-1, which they matched Friday with yet another eye-opening conquest.

The Magic blew the unbeaten Spurs out of the Amway Center, leading by 27 at the break — tied for the second-largest halftime deficit in 1,661 games under Gregg Popovich, per ESPN Stats & Info — and as many as 36 overall en route to a 114-87 triumph that pushed them atop the Eastern Conference.

Again, it’s still ridiculously early — just two weeks into the season, at a point in the calendar when the NBA is typically just starting. But through five games, the Magic have served emphatic notice that they could be much greater than the sum of their individual parts.

They’ve been particularly impressive on the offensive end, ranking among the league leaders in an array of categories entering Friday’s game including points per 100 possessions (second), 3-point shooting (first), assist ratio (second) and pace (fourth).

“We’re starting to play offensively consistently the right way in terms of not settling and understanding that we want to attack early and the ball is really hopping,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel told Magic.com last week. “We’re scoring the ball well and shooting the ball well as a result of the ball movement and the quality of our shots.”

If those words sounds strange coming from a coach who emphasized defense and physicality in his previous stint with the Pacers, they shouldn’t. Vogel expressed a “great desire” to play up-tempo basketball on his first day on the job in 2016.

It took them a season to get there, but the Magic are making up for lost time.

They shredded the Spurs’ fourth-ranked defense on Friday, shooting 57.1 percent with 11 3s. The key players in their early season success — Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic — combined for 56 points on 23-for-32 shooting, and Jonathon Simmons scored 17 in 23 minutes off the bench against his old team. All told, it was the kind of clinic the Spurs have been conducting for years.

“It’s too early to make any big judgments,” Vogel said after the Magic’s third game, and it still applies following their fifth. “But it’s an early positive sign for us. Everybody is playing basketball the right way, thinking extra pass and playing for each other. That’s how chemistry is established.”

And perhaps, a few months down the road, an end to Orlando’s lengthy postseason drought.