Magic

Magic Dealt With Difficult First-Round Hand

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The NBA Playoffs have returned and fans all around the world can rejoice! As usual, the league is full of storylines including a wide-open playoff bracket. You’ve got Kawhi Leonard vs. Luka Dončić one night and LeBron James vs. Damian Lillard the next. These playoffs will be exciting, especially in the bubble where the unthinkable has already happened. The Orlando Magic are faced with the difficult task of upsetting the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. The series begins Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 pm EST as Orlando plays towards making some Magic happen.

 

Unmagical Underdogs

Oddsmakers don’t like the Magic’s chances for a first-round upset for understandable reasons. Milwaukee boasts the top-ranked offense and eighth-ranked defense in PPG. As arguably the most complete team in the league, the Bucks have a great balance of three-point shooting, rim protection and athleticism. The Magic will need to first and foremost stop the possible two-time MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Orlando will throw a lot of bodies at him, but losing Jonathan Isaac certainly hurts. Aaron Gordon is officially a game-time decision, but if he’s cleared to play, he’ll be a primary defender in this series.

Speaking of Gordon, Magic fans hope he can improve on the offensive output he showed in last year’s playoffs. On top of taking defensive assignments against Kawhi and Pascal Siakam last postseason, he put up 15-7-3 in the five games. If the team gets at least that production, opportunities should open up for others on the perimeter. Another offensive X-Factor is Nikola Vucevic. A year after looking pedestrian against Marc Gasol in the post, he will have to play well to spread the floor on offense. If he can produce against Brook Lopez, there will be a lot of threes available. The Bucks are susceptible to shooters on the outside and while it’s not quite Orlando’s strength, this will be their best shot at making it a series.

The Magic will most likely start a combo of Fultz, Fournier, Gordon and Vucevic. The fifth spot will come down to matchups and likely who has the hot hand.

Coaching Maneuvers

Steve Clifford will have to make some smart lineup decisions as he will not only need the starters to play well. Milwaukee has a very strong bench led by Donte DiVincenzo. The Magic will need quality bench minutes to boot from Ross, Augustin, Birch, etc.  Mo Bamba has left the bubble, so the team isn’t quite as deep down low if Vucevic gets in foul trouble. Playing to the Clifford mantra of stingy defense and not beating yourself will be crucial.

There’s a lot that needs to go right, but here are three keys to success for this series:

  • Hold Giannis and Middleton under their season averages
  • Minimum of two role players with strong series
  • Have a clear crunch-time scorer step up

While this series isn’t preordained, it will be very difficult to win. Stranger things have happened in 2020.

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