at Brooklyn Nets: Game Preview
ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic will attempt to quickly turn the page on last night’s loss in Boston when they visit the new-look Brooklyn Nets on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.
Caught in the middle of a four-game losing skid that’s coincided with the season-ending injury to floor general Markelle Fultz, the Magic are struggling to find offensive organization and their shooting rhythm.
Orlando (6-6) is currently last in the league in assists per game and will need to get back to its foundational principles of quality ball movement and commitment to the extra pass if it wants to upset a Brooklyn squad (7-6) that will potentially debut its latest All-Star addition on Saturday night.
“I think it’s not as much that we are struggling to make shots or not, it’s more of the fact that our decision making has to get better for us to have a chance to win against good teams like Boston, or (tonight against) Brooklyn,” Magic center Nikola Vucevic said. “It’s mostly frustrating because when we do those things, when we move the ball, when we play for each other, when we have activity offensively and we play with energy, we are able to (have success). … A lot of times when you take bad shots, usually it ends up being easy points for the other team on the other end.”
Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford would like his team to bounce back with a better approach against the Nets after they had what he described as their “worst, in terms of being attentive” shootaround of the season.
“Don’t give possessions away, value every offensive possession, know what the game plan is, (and) help your teammates play better,” said Clifford about the keys to righting the ship. “At the defensive end, play our defense, take away individual strengths, and the strengths of the other team.”
Two additional ways Orlando can look to reignite its offense is to create contact by attacking the rack, much like swingman Dwayne Bacon did on Friday, shooting seven free throws on his way to a 15-point night, and through extra-effort plays, which has been a key component of Khem Birch’s game. The Magic’s backup center notched 12 points and 12 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive glass, against the Celtics.
“Having him do what he does is amazing for our team, especially coming in at that backup center position,” Bacon said of Birch. “He does all the right things for us. We just have to, as a collective unit, tap into what his level of focus is and what he does and try to bring that same energy.”
QUOTE TO NOTE: “We tend to walk the ball down a little bit and during those times (that) we can be getting transition points. We have great guys, who can get out and run in transition, but we (have been) playing so slow in transition that we don’t give ourselves a chance to get those easy points.” – Bacon, who would like to see Orlando play with more pace and purpose against Brooklyn.
INJURY UPDATE: Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee rehabilitation), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left foot), Evan Fournier (back spasms), Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Chuma Okeke (left knee bone bruise) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) are all out. Mo Bamba (non-team contact tracing) did not travel with the team and will not play on Saturday.
For Brooklyn, a complete look at the NBA’s new big three will have to wait. Although perennial MVP candidate James Harden, who was recently acquired via a blockbuster deal with the Houston Rockets, will make his Brooklyn debut and start, Kyrie Irving (health and safety protocols), Nicolas Claxton (right knee tendinopathy) and Spencer Dinwiddie (partially torn ACL, right knee) are all out.
KEY STAT: Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and Harden have combined for seven of the last 11 scoring titles, dating back to the 2009-10 season. Durant has won four (2010-12 and 2014), while Harden has won each of the last three (2018-20). They are two of just nine players in NBA history to win three or more scoring titles, and they become the first pair of teammates in league history who’ve each previously won three scoring titles.
RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, I brought in special guest, Kristian Winfield, who covers the Nets for the New York Daily News. He was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the Nets amidst a seemingly endless breaking news cycle over the last few weeks:
Savage: “How crazy have the last few days been covering this team in Brooklyn with everything that’s gone on?”
Winfield: “It feels like two weeks ago I was living a totally different life and now I’m a reporter who’s covering pretty much a super team now. Right? I think it’s fair to call the Nets a super team. You’ve got Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving – whenever he decides to re-enter the chat – and you’ve got James Harden. You’ve got a team that’s saying they want to win it all and they’re going to do what it takes to win it all. You see both sides of the business. You’ve got Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, who are three stand-up guys, great human beings, and pretty good basketball players. On the other side of that, when you have the opportunity to turn three pretty good basketball players into one Hall-of-Fame caliber super scorer, super playmaker, you do it every time. It’s bittersweet, because I’ve been covering Caris and Jarrett since they got here, not just for me, but for a bunch of Nets fans. Nets fans loved them. Look at what Jarrett Allen has become and what Caris LeVert has become in such a short span, and now they’re headed elsewhere. But you have to just feel so happy for Nets fans in this city. Number one, it’s undeniable all the dirt Knicks fans have been throwing on them and now they’re throwing it right back. And now there’s actually a basketball team in New York that you can get behind and have some buzz around. The only thing that we’re missing is the fact that there are no fans in these arenas.”
Savage: “The next question is how do you think these guys make it work and how much does the fact that Nets assistant coach Mike D’Antoni coached James Harden in Houston help ease that transition?”
Winfield: “These are some of the things that we asked James Harden about when he spoke to us for the first time. We asked him, ‘was Mike D’Antoni coming to Brooklyn, did that factor into your decision to want to come here?’ He said, ‘in part, yes.’ But more so, it was Mike D’Antoni leaving Houston made him reconsider his options and what was on the table in Houston. He just didn’t feel like they had enough. I just go back to always thinking talent wins basketball games. When you’re able to get three of the most talented players in the NBA on one team, I think you’re giving yourself chance. I don’t think these guys wanted to get together just to be able to play iso ball and see who can score and beat their man as many times (as possible). In a way, we’re going to see how that looks today, at least between James and KD. I think they’re going to be fine. Offensively, I don’t think that’s going to be the biggest issue. Defensively, for them, especially having given up Jarrett Allen. You have DeAndre Jordan, he’s a veteran, experienced, real center in the NBA, but he’s not the same DJ that we saw on the Clippers that was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, posterizing people. He’s not that guy anymore. So, I think the center position is going to be interesting and I think they’re really going to have to fill out the rest of these holes. The Nets have three other roster spots to fill. But I do think they’ll be okay. Offensively, that’s going to be the least of their worries when you’ve got shooters like they have in Joe Harris and (Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot) and a couple of other guys, and you have three guys who can not only score but can also pass. None of these three stars are unable to pass. Kevin Durant had thirteen assists the other day. Offensively, it’s going to work out just fine.”
Savage: “We’re getting our first look at Steve Nash as a head coach this season. What have been some of the staples of his coaching philosophies and what have you seen from him as Brooklyn’s leader?”
Winfield: “That’s tough. There have been moments where we’ve seen that Steve Nash is still growing and learning what it takes to be a head coach. One of those things that I’ve covered, and a lot of Nets reporters have covered, is he’s been frugal as it pertains to calling timeouts. It’s almost as if he’s operating as if they can roll over to the next game like minutes. But it doesn’t work like that. We’ve seen the Nets lose some games early this season because Steve Nash hasn’t called a timeout in a timely manner. We’ve seen the Nets lose some games because he hasn’t had a full grasp on the rotations that he wants to run, the substitution patterns. He still settling into these things in terms of getting live game action coaching and what it’s going to take. But when you ask the Nets players about him, they’ll say Steve is great and he knows when to call timeouts. They’re supposed to defend their coach. The interesting thing about Steve is, and I think what (Nets General Manager) Sean (Marks) said is perfect, in the next head coach he wanted someone who is more of a conductor. In that he’s going to make sure that he addresses all of his players’ needs. That was something that Sean and KD wanted when they parted with (former head coach) Kenny Atkinson. They wanted somebody who was going to relate to the players and understand that they don’t know all the answers. The coach themselves doesn’t know all the answers, but the players who are actually out there on the floor probably can provide a little bit more insight. On top of that, Steve Nash is just a Hall of Fame point guard. He sees the game a different way anyway. To answer your question, it’s interesting watching him on the sidelines, but it’s also early on. We’re only (thirteen) games in. He’s saying himself that he hasn’t even had a chance to implement different sets of the offense that he’s wanted to. And now with a guy like James Harden coming in, you probably have to reimagine a few things. But I’m starting to come around to the idea that Steve Nash is the right person for this job just because of his demeanor and it’s looking like relationships are key, especially in Brooklyn. Everybody on this team, so far, has a good relationship with one another and it looks like Nash has a great relationship with everybody.”