At first, the Orlando Magic were losing tight games. Now they’re struggling to keep games close and compete for an entire 48 minutes.
The Magic’s 121-108 road loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday wasn’t just their eighth consecutive loss — it was their fifth by at least double figures during the slide.
And the final score made the game look closer than it was.
The defeat was the sixth loss in which the Magic trailed by at least 20 points in the second half. Five of those losses have come during the losing streak.
The Magic (5-19) return to Amway Center on Monday to start a five-game homestand vs. the Milwaukee Bucks (16-6). The matchup will tip off at 7 p.m.
“Being home with the families and being able to get a body of work in at our facility, that’s going to be huge for us,” coach Jamahl Mosley said.
Before the Magic take on the Bucks, there are key things that need to be addressed:
Welcome back Fultz, Anthony
The Magic welcomed back guards Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony into the lineup in Wednesday’s home loss to the Atlanta Hawks, giving the backcourt a much-needed boost.
Individually, each has performed well.
Anthony, who missed 16 games because of a torn right internal oblique, has averaged 14 points (50% shooting — 50% on 2s and 3s), 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in his last three games (25.5 minutes). Fultz, who missed the first 21 games after fracturing his big left toe late in the offseason, is averaging 8.3 points (44% shooting — 47.8% on 2s), 4.7 assists, 2.7 rebounds in 21.7 minutes.
While their individual successes haven’t translated to a win, it’s clear what Mosley is hoping they’ll bring to the group and that there’s going to be an adjustment period.
The Magic played at a pace — possessions per 48 minutes — of at least 100 when Anthony and/or Fultz were on the floor in losses to the Hawks and the Raptors.
Pace isn’t just getting up the first shot available or shooting earlier in the shot clock. It’s getting up the floor more quickly and starting actions/sets earlier — something the Magic have struggled with.
That urgency has forced opponents to have to defend for longer, sometimes helping to create easier scoring opportunities.
They need to be more accurate on these looks, shooting a league-worst 21.4% on their 9.3 open 3s (nearest defender 4-6 feet away) over the last three games.
Their 44.4% accuracy on wide-open 3s (the nearest defender is 6-plus feet away) during that stretch helps, but there have been missed chances.
It’s clear that young forwards Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are adjusting to playing alongside ball-handling guards more often. Banchero (29.3%) and Wagner (24.7%) led the team in usage before the returns of Anthony and Fultz.
With Fultz (21.9%) and Anthony (19.4%) using more possession as ballhandlers, Banchero’s usage has dipped significantly (24%). He’s averaging fewer drives — 7.3 in the last three games compared to 12.6 earlier in the season — though some of that may be because he’s getting back into the swing of things after missing seven games because of a sprained ankle.
Wagner’s drives (13.2 to 12) haven’t dipped as much as Banchero, but both have missed shots they usually make.
Banchero and Wagner are good cutters and catch-and-shoot 3-pointer shooters.There have been sequences where they’ve gotten easier baskets because of the playmaking from Fultz or Anthony. All four have had good moments playing off one another.
“Despite what’s happening in these moments of losses, this group has an unbelievable chance for so much potential and growth,” Mosley said. “When the chemistry clicks, it’s going to be very special. It’s going to take some time to get those puzzle pieces in place, but these guys recognize it and understand it.”
- Against the Bucks, the Magic won’t have to worry about the opposing offensive rebounding as much but need to be mindful of Milwaukee’s shooting at the rim and from the midrange.
- It’s not yet known if Los Angeles Clippers star wings Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, who’ve been sidelined, will be available Wednesday.
- The Magic will need to improve their defensive rebounding in home games against the Raptors on Friday and Dec. 11 after allowing 12 offensive rebounds and finishing with 29 total rebounds (25 defensive) Saturday.
- They’ll have to do a better job cutting off the top paint against Trae Young and Dejounte Murray drives against the Hawks on Dec. 14
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.