Balance is key for Magic vs. Lakers
Magic continue to seek balance as they continue tough stretch that includes Lakers
Clifford is pushing team to deliver a better mix of offense, defense.
The Orlando Magic are about to go from facing the beast of the East to playing the best in the West.
Orlando dropped a 110-101 decision to Eastern Conference leader Milwaukee and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on Monday.
Wednesday night the Magic will get the top team in the Western Conference when they welcome the Los Angeles Lakers to Amway Center.
That means trying to slow down the tandem of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who have led the Lakers to a 21-3 mark — tied with the Bucks for the best in the NBA.
James (25.9 ppg) and Davis (27.7 ppg) each rank in the top 10 in scoring, while James is also averaging a league-best 10.4 assists per game.
The contest also will mark the return to Orlando for Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who will face the Magic for the first time since the team fired him after the 2017-18 season. And former Magic All-Star Dwight Howard is thriving in a reserve role with the Lakers after generally struggling since he forced his way out of Orlando.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Florida.
After facing the Lakers, the list of opponents doesn’t get any easier for the Magic and that worries coach Steve Clifford to a degree.
Orlando gets a home game Friday against the Houston Rockets before embarking on a four-game trip that will include back-to-back games in Salt Lake City and Denver Dec. 17 and 18. The Western swing begins Sunday in New Orleans and ends Dec. 20 in Portland.
“We’re playing a different level of competition here from now until Christmas,” Clifford said.
Clifford wasn’t happy with his team’s defensive rebounding Monday against the Bucks and said the Magic need to elevate their play to match the opponents ahead.
The Bucks posted 14 second-chance points in the first half and finished with 16. They also out-rebounded the Magic 54-44.
“You can’t get beat up like that on the glass,” Clifford said.
He said Milwaukee’s second-chance points were momentum “killers.” Orlando had allowed an average of 12.8 second-chance points in its previous five games.
“You have a good [defensive] possession, guys work hard and [you give up an offensive rebound]. It’s a bigger part of the NBA game with this five [players] out,” Clifford said. “Everybody’s got to hit, everybody’s got to rebound.”
In addition, Clifford continues to push his team toward more consistency and balanced efforts for the offense and defense.
Even though Orlando had won five of its past six games entering Monday’s contest, it had struggled with playing well at both ends of the floor. The Magic outshot the Wizards and Suns, then ground out victories against the Warriors and Cavaliers.
Those four teams have combined for 28 wins and a winning percentage of .304, although the Suns (11-12) are eighth in the West.
The Lakers, Rockets, Nuggets and Jazz, on the other hand, have combined for 63 wins and a .685 winning percentage.
Clifford said it’s going to take the kind of offensive and defensive balance his team showed down the stretch last season to reach sustained success, not just during the upcoming portion of the schedule but also beyond.
“When we went last year, the last 34 games of the year, we were first in defense, 14th in offense. That’s balanced. We haven’t been anywhere near close to that all year,” he said. “So even in this last [winning] stretch here, we’ve either outscored people or our defense has been great and our offense has been very poor. We aren’t putting balanced games together. We’re competing hard and we’re getting better on offense, but it’s not a recipe for sustained winning in our league. You’ve got to be able to play well on offense and defense.”
Through Monday, the Magic rank 26th in offensive rating (104.2) and 10th in defensive rating (104.5).
Clifford said the Magic would need to play well at both ends of the floor to beat the Bucks and Wednesday will require a similar effort.
The Lakers rank among the league leaders in several statistical categories, including blocks (1st), steals (3rd), offensive rating (4th), defensive rating (6th) and points per game (8th).
What the Lakers do well is shoot the ball as a team. Specifically, when the players who take the most shots also shoot a high percentage, your offense will, for the most part, thrive. The Lakers are No. 1 in the league in field-goal percentage (49.0%), with the Davis at 50.7% and James at 50.1%.
In fact, the Lakers have 10 players who average at least 15 minutes per game and shoot at least 43% from the field. Veteran shooting guard Danny Green, who signed as a free agent, remains a solid long-range shooter at 39.8%.
Wednesday’s game also will match up the NBA’s top two shot blockers in Davis and Magic forward Jonathan Isaac. He recorded five blocked shots on Monday and leads the league with 2.9 blocks per game. Davis is second at 2.7 per game.
Aaron Gordon and the Magic, who are coming off a 110-101 loss to Brook Lopez and the Bucks, are about to get a heavy dose of Western Conference opponents on their schedule.