One - Series at a glance
The Magic were 20-31 Jan. 28, finished the season 22-9, 8-3 against plus-.550 teams, 5-1 against teams in the .439 to .549 range, and bizarrely 9-5 against teams below that barrier.
Notable victories include:
Feb. 9 @ Milwaukee - No Giannis. (W)
Feb. 24 @ Toronto - No Kawhi, no FVV, Gasol’s fifth game. (W)
Feb. 28 vs. Golden State - No Durant, no Iguodala. (W)
Mar. 25 vs. Philadelphia - No Simmons (W)
Orlando ranks seventh in scoring at 114 points per 100 possessions, first in defence at 105.1 points per 100 possessions (rank first in both halfcourt and transition defence). They’re the best defensive rebounding team in the league, do not foul, and do not force a lot of turnovers. They also don’t get to the line much (24th) and don’t turn the ball over much (8th). In transition, with players like Siakam, they will often look to create a two-man wall to deter a rim attack.
Two - How the Magic operate
They are fourth-best at forcing teams into the mid-range behind Utah, Golden State and Detroit. Kawhi Leonard must make them pay while Marc Gasol must use the space afforded to him to create. Kyle Lowry should also have healthy opportunities to be a scorer.
The Magic will drop the big in pick-and-rolls while switching in any PnR outside of that. They feel very comfortable sticking Aaron Gordon, Wesley Iwundu and Jonathan Isaac on anyone. They will exaggerate their help in the paint and dare you to make the skip pass.
They allow the fourth fewest shot attempts at the rim and are about league average in field goal percentage allowed at the rim. Second-best in effective field goal percentage allowed, sixth in allowing corner threes, and teams shot second-worst 33 per cent on corner threes against them. The Raptors shot 47 per cent on corner threes after the trade deadline, so something has to give. They’re about league average in non-corner threes allowed, first in non-corner three percentage allowed at 31.8 per cent. The Raptors shot 37 per cent after adding Gasol.
The Raptors have been chasing D.J. Augustin off the line, who has been shooting right around 40 per cent from three for the last few years. They might need to test him and see if he can do so in the playoffs. When the Raptors go around the screen, Augustin does a good job of being patient with his dribble and staying parallel with the roller to find Vucevic at the right time. Gasol has regularly been dropping in pick-and-roll coverage, so they can look to exploit that.
Three - Jonathan Isaac is the X-factor
This is the Magic’s path to an upset: Isaac shuts down Siakam, and that forces the Raptors into relying on their third and fourth options who can’t deliver. The games bog down because neither team can score, and the Magic get just enough lucky bounces to swing the series in crunch time.
Shutting down Siakam is easier said than done, but the Magic have given him problems to say the least. Orlando limited Siakam to just 8.8 points this season, and if you remove the first meeting in which Siakam scored 15 points before he was on anyone’s scouting report, his average dips even further to just 6.7 points.
Siakam hasn’t solved Isaac’s length, and he might not have an answer given his current skillset. The former No. 6 pick is taller than Siakam (7-0 vs. 6-9) and he’s about as long in terms of wingspan (7-1 vs. 7-3). Moreover, Isaac has also played him smart by backing off and not giving Siakam any contact to spin away from, while also being quick and long enough to contest Siakam’s shot without leaving his feet.
This is just a bad match-up. The Magic will allow Siakam to fire away from the corners, but they’re going to limit transition baskets, and Isaac neutralizes most of Siakam’s one-on-one moves. It’s imperative that Siakam keeps his composure and doesn’t force bad shots.
The best option would be to put Siakam in the pick-and-roll to coax a different match-up. The Magic generally play it straight up and try to avoid switching at point guard at center, but having Siakam screen for Lowry will at least force Isaac to close the gap to respect the pull-up jumper. At that point, Lowry can slip it to Siakam who should have an easier time against a scrambling defense.
Otherwise, the hope would be that Isaac tenses up under the bright lights of his first playoff run and his iffy jumper disappears. Isaac is a capable but inconsistent shooter in the mold of OG Anunoby, and he could very well go cold for extended stretches, forcing head coach Steve Clifford into moving Terrence Ross to the starting lineup while Aaron Gordon shifts up to power forward.
Four - Kawhi Leonard needs to be smart about Aaron Gordon
Gordon also presents match-up challenges for Leonard, although it’s not as much of an issue as Siakam vs. Isaac. Leonard has put up 18 points on 42 percent shooting with only four free-throw attempts per game against the Magic this season, which is well below his averages.
Leonard likes to play bullyball, but Gordon is built like a tight end and rarely budges on the block. Gordon is also an explosive leaper off two feet, so Leonard can’t just rise up and fire over the top because there’s a real chance that Gordon will block the shot. He will have to be more creative.
The best way for Leonard to attack Gordon is in the pick-and-roll, both as the screener and as the ball-handler. Gordon’s bulk becomes a disadvantage when he’s fighting through screens, and that should free up space for Leonard to get the elbow jumper or even the pull-up three. Likewise, having Leonard short roll and catch the ball in space will also be an advantage because Gordon isn’t as laterally quick as you would expect from an otherwise excellent athlete. Leonard has successfully gotten Gordon off balance with his dribble this season.
Five - Be careful with Evan Fournier
Fournier will be a nuisance, but the Raptors already know that. Fournier topped 20 points in two of his four meetings with the Raptors this season, and he is one of those pesky scorers that always find a way to spring free.
The Magic love to clear the left side of the floor and have Fournier come up top around a screen from Nik Vucevic and attack off the move. Fournier can either fire the wing three or slither his way to the basket. Fournier even has some off-the-dribble juice to create one-on-one, although the Raptors’ defenders are a bit too experienced to fall for that.
Danny Green will likely draw the match-up on Fournier but Nick Nurse should give serious consideration to Leonard for that job. It might be hard to always cross match, but Leonard’s length will present a major issue for Fournier in the two-man game with Vucevic. The Raptors would then have to shift their coverages with Danny Green on Isaac while Siakam takes Gordon, but the Raptors already switch everything 1-through-4 so their wings are comfortable playing against different positions.
(Also, never search for images of Fournier. Please take my word for it. You will regret it.)
Six - Don’t let Nik Vucevic get easy baskets
Vucevic has torn the Raptors to shreds this season, but you also have to apply some context. Vucevic did have 30-19-8 against the Raptors in December, but that was while Serge Ibaka was exhausted playing full time center during Jonas Valanciunas’ absence, and while Greg Monroe was the backup.
Vucevic was much more manageable in the two games against Marc Gasol, where he posted his seasonal averages of 18 points and 12 rebounds on 51 percent shooting. It's worth noting that Vucevic did catch Gasol slipping on pick-and-pops, but Vucevic isn't a prolific 3-point shooter. He's only made four triples once this season and it was back in October. It's a win when he settles for the jumper.
You can live with those numbers from Vucevic. He is an all-star after all, and he’s undoubtedly a skilled big. He can stretch it out from the elbows and occasionally to the 3-point line, but he’s most effective around the paint. He’s going to work for inside position and has great hands to finish around the rim. He can even work Ibaka in the post, which is why Gasol should see most of the minutes here.
The Raptors should treat Vucevic like teams used to treat Jonas Valanciunas: limit easy baskets, take away offensive rebounds, and let him shoot the jumper. Vucevic is better than Valanciunas, but ultimately you can live with his production.
Seven - Look to pick on D.J. Augustin
Augustin will most likely be a liability in this series by virtue of his size. He's Fred VanVleet's height, and the Raptors should go at him whenever possible.
Orlando tried to hide him on Green for most of the season series, but that allowed Green to go for a season-best 29 points in three quarters in their last meeting. Not only will Green get layups on post-ups, but he can also push Augustin around to get open for threes.
Orlando is also pressed for options at backup point guard. Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams are upgrades defensively, but neither player is a threat to shoot nor can they effectively set the table. Grant tops out as a Delon Wright clone, while MCW shoots 16 percent from three and 33 percent overall.
Lowry, Green and VanVleet should keep challenging Augustin when given the chance. The Magic are always help-conscious when Augustin is being targeted, and that should free up shooters away from the ball. Gasol and Serge Ibaka should see plenty of open pick-and-pop jumpers.
Eight - How to counter Terrence Ross
Admittedly, I have been “out on Terrence Ross” since 2014, but he deserves props for maturing into a legit weapon off the bench at exactly the right time. Ross shot the Magic into the playoffs by averaging 23 points in the month of April.
However, Ross is still fundamentally the same player with many of the same weaknesses. He's more confident with his scoring, but he shies away from physicality and falls asleep regularly on defense. The Raptors should play him tough (caution: Ross is clever about anticipating contact on the James Harden rip-through move) and try to bully him.
Norman Powell is the right man for the job. Powell is at his best when he's going downhill towards the rim, and Ross will allow opportunities. Powell also quietly shot 40 percent from deep on the season, and has become an effective spot-up shooter coming around a pick at the top of the floor. Powell and Ross are also good friends, so it figures to be a fun matchup.
Nurse also decided to blitz in the final game of the series, and that strategy limited Ross to six points on 2-10 shooting. That's always an option the Raptors can turn to if Ross gets hot, but the whole idea with Ross is to keep him from getting his rhythm in the first place. Dare him to beat you with his passing, especially since his fellow bench partners in MCW, Wes Iwundu, and Khem Birch are all fairly limited.
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