The Orlando Magic seemed to be the feel-good-story of the Eastern Conference before running into a big Dame problem on Thursday night.
Thanks to the help of a courtside ‘heckler,’ Damian Lillard exploded for 34 second-half points at the Amway Center. The mark would be a franchise record for points in a half for the Blazers and helped to outpace the Magic, 128-114.
Aaron Gordon and his friends (Jerian Grant, Terrence Ross, Jonathon Simmons, Mo Bamba) led a 15-9 run to start the fourth quarter, culminated with a 27-foot three-pointer bringing the task to a manageable 102-99 before Dame reentered and brought an 8-0 run with him.
Now the Magic look to rediscover what looked a promising start after the near defeat of the 76ers in Philadephia, and the confidence-building victory over the Boston Celtics, a game in which these Magic never trailed.
But these odds appear almost as long as the “Greek Freak,” a fast-rising MVP candidate leading the 5-0 Bucks squad into the Fiserv Forum on Saturday night against our pinstriped heroes.
Giannis is off to a historic start. Through four games, he has compiled at least 25 points and 15 rebounds in each contest, a mark that has not been achieved since 1965 (Wilt Chamberlain). Giannis’ definitive victory over the 76ers on national television saw a final stat line of 32/18/10. He achieved his triple-double on this otherworldly pass:
But the odds are not insurmountable for the Magic. After all, remember that no one in this NBA can defend Giannis quite like our very own Aaron Gordon. Gordon possesses the size, athleticism, and awareness to hinder Giannis’ progress and keep the long-limbed athletic point forward from reaching the circle.
But the Magic have other problems outside of Giannis. The Bucks go five creators deep in their new look starting lineup, pairing point guards Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon side-by-side in the backcourt, alongside sharp shooting Khris Middleton and freshly acquired Brook Lopez.
The Bucks are flying high this year with the game’s fourth-fastest pace (105), eighth offensive rating (113.8), and fourth defensive rating (103.3). The Bucks are fourth in scoring and don’t allow their opponents any points in transition (second overall). They gobble up rebounds better than anyone (first), and lead the league in blocks.
The Milwaukee Bucks have one definitive weakness: turnovers, where they commit an egregious 16 per game, good for 13.2% of their possessions.
Their bench is equally concerning with big men Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson, rookie Donte DiVincenzo, and Tony Snell.
For the Magic to catch the Bucks, they’ll have to do so defensively, creating extra opportunities and hindering the Bucks’ offensive efficiency. Most importantly, Gordon will have to resurrect this performance against Giannis.
For more on the Bucks, download the “Do You Believe in Magic Podcast” and tune in to hear Bucks editor, BBall Index contributor, and Clips Nation editor Robert Flom break down everything to look for in this contest coming at you Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.