The Orlando Magic found themselves down early and rallying late. But they could not get over the hump against a strong Milwaukee Bucks team.
Giannis Antetokounmpo takes up a lot of attention. That is what MVP players do. Without the Orlando Magic’s top defender in Aaron Gordon, out with lower back tightness suffered in Friday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the task to contain him got even bigger.
Jonathan Isaac did not help matters, picking up two fouls in short order and having to play a bit more hands off the rest of the game. The Orlando Magic had to be on a string, focused and tight defensively to have any chance to defeat the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks.
Especially on Antetokounmpo. He is a train darting toward the basket with length and strength to go through any defender. It would be a truly team effort to lock down the paint and force him into uncomfortable jumpers.
Let Milwaukee sit here and prove that there are plenty of other players that can burn you. And that too can open up things for Antetokounmpo.
After Orlando rallied to cut the lead to four points in the fourth quarter, it was these strong supporting players who helped Milwaukee put the game away. Khris Middleton drained a 3-pointer immediately after to give the Bucks some much-needed cushion. And then it was Eric Bledsoe taking over from there.
Bledsoe scored 30 points, knifing his way through the lane and hitting shots from the perimeter with alarming accuracy. The Magic really never had any answers in a 118-108 loss at the Amway Center. They were playing catch-up from the very beginning — both from being down their best defender and with their struggles to start the game.
Orlando came on strong late to shoot 47.3 percent from the floor — including 14 of 32 from beyond the arc. But Milwaukee had already taken advantage of every little mistake Orlando made to put the team in a double-digit hole early. The Magic committed just eight turnovers, but the Bucks still turned that into 31 fast-break points, taking advantage of plenty of the Magic’s misses.
Orlando had just two fast-break points, a steal and dunk from Terrence Ross in the third quarter. These little advantages are too much for a team to overcome. Especially since Orlando’s defensive rhythm has become increasingly shaky.
Stretched too thin, the Magic found themselves unwinding early and unable to reel the Bucks completely back in late.
But it is still clear Isaac has a long way to go physically and against the very elite of the NBA, his defensive skills are not quite developed to that level. Antetokounmpo scored 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting. He was able to get into the lane with some resistance and score around the basket. Isaac generally showed good discipline keeping his feet and going under screens to dare Antetokounmpo to shoot. But he could do little to stop him when he got downhill.
Isaac seemed to be able to do even less offensively. He settled for several contested shots throughout the game instead of keeping the ball moving. The confidence is good, but the results are not there. It felt like he was trying to do a bit more early but scaled back as he realized he was out of rhythm.
Vucevic finished with 27 points on 11-for-24 shooting, shaking off a rough early start to the game. Vucevic got his legs under him in the post as the game went on and that helped unlock the Magic’s offense a whole lot more. That kept them in this game and gave them a real chance.
Undoubtedly though, his struggles early on to crack Brook Lopez in the post — Lopez had five blocks in the first half — hurt the team and put them in a huge hole. Vucevic carries an unfair responsibility for this team offensively. But those lulls clearly cost the team.
Simmons never lacked for confidence in this one and stayed largely within control throughout the game. He rarely took any bad shots or forced anything with wild drives to the lane. He hit some 3-pointers too which was a great sign.
But there is still a bit of a trust issue with his teammates. Defenses are going to leave him open until he makes 3-pointers consistently — the numbers certainly suggest they should do this. And teammates were a bit hesitant to rotate the ball to him because of that. Simmons will have to get himself back into rhythm if he keeps getting playing time.
But very little has been easy for Fournier. He continues to be a bit off balance with his shot and the production simply is not there. Especially with how much the Magic use him. Fournier scored 11 points on 5-for-14 shooting, missing all five of his 3-pointers. It was not a good outing for Fournier.
Without that offensive piece, it is tough to justify Fournier in many other areas. Fournier was largely fine helping chase down Khris Middleton — he scored 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting. But Fournier has to make shots especially in a situation like this.
Milwaukee took care of its business and then just kind of coasted through much of the second half. That is what really good teams like Milwaukee can do. Their “B” game is enough against teams like the Orlando Magic who will struggle.
They got a big boost from Eric Bledsoe. He scored 30 points on 12-for-14 shooting. That kept the Bucks working at an even pace throughout the game. The Magic had few options at point guard who could handle his size and he took full advantage — really from the first possession when he posted up D.J. Augustin. The Bucks took care of business.
The Orlando Magic hit the road next to take on the Atlanta Hawks for the first time this season Monday in Atlanta. The Magic are now 3.5 games out of the final Playoff spot.