After Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Detroit Pistons, one of coach Jamahl Mosley’s messages to the Orlando Magic was simple.
“Stop reaching,” Mosley said. “If you trust your positioning and get there on time, you don’t have to reach for the basketball.”
The message was precise because, to Mosley, the solution to one of the issues the Magic had in Detroit wasn’t complicated and could have been amplified leading into Friday’s 108-98 loss to the Hawks at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
“It’s very simple,” Mosley said. “On closeouts, sit down, understand who it is you’re guarding and don’t reach for the basketball. Play positional defense, get your chest in front of the guy and sit down and guard.”
The message was heard.
“It’s just discipline,” guard Terrence Ross said. “Got to learn from when guys are driving, no need to reach. Keep your hands out, keep your hands up.”
While the execution was better Friday compared to Wednesday, the Magic still have work to do.
Cole Anthony, who made his season debut Friday after sitting out Wednesday’s game and Thursday’s practice because of an illness, led Orlando with 25 points (8-of-12, 4-of-5 on 3s) in 28 minutes.
Paolo Banchero had 20 points and 12 rebounds for his first double-double in addition to 3 blocks.
Reaches weren’t the only issue that plagued Orlando in its loss to Detroit. Turnovers and defensive rebounding were also problems. But the Magic’s tendency to reach despite having good defensive positioning undid them with Orlando committing 24 fouls — 7 in the fourth — and the Pistons attempting 24 free throws.
Defending without fouling was an even greater emphasis with the Hawks having what Mosley called a “dynamic backcourt” in Trae Young and Dejounte Murray.
Young is especially good at drawing fouls, finishing in the top 10 of free-throw attempts per game the previous three seasons.
The Magic did a great job defending Young in the first half but Young got loose in the second, finishing with 25 points (7-of-24, 4-of-11 on 3s) and 13 assists.
Murray had 20 points, 9 assists, 9 rebounds and 4 steals. John Collins recorded 23 points (9-of-14, 3-of-4 on 3s) and 13 rebounds. Atlanta shot 41.9% on 3s (13-of-31) compared to Orlando’s 23.5% (8-of-34).
“That’s always going to be our game keys,” Mosley said. “That’s part of showing your hands, positional defense first. And forcing the contested tough shot. Not necessarily going to get the block but contest the shot first. Now you’re in a position for our other guys to help rebound.”
Anthony, who came off the bench for the first time since April 14, 2021, had been a game-time decision heading into Friday, with Mosley saying that Anthony was able to go through “a little bit” of Friday morning’s shootaround.
Markelle Fultz (fractured left big toe), Gary Harris (left knee rehabilitation), Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) and Moe Wagner (sprained right midfoot) remain sidelined.
Jalen Suggs left Friday’s game in the third quarter with an ankle injury, later being ruled out.
He landed awkwardly on his foot after taking a foul on a drive in the third. He originally went right to the bench but hopped back to the locker room with team trainers.
The Magic ruled Suggs out in the fourth, saying Suggs sprained the ankle.
The Magic will play the Boston Celtics in their home opener Saturday at Amway Center to conclude their back-to-back.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.