Bal­ance is key for Magic vs. Lak­ers

Magic con­tinue to seek bal­ance as they con­tinue tough stretch that in­cludes Lak­ers

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Roy Parry

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.

MORRY GASH/AP

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.

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