Orlando injected a little hope into their fan base last game, pulling out a surprising 121-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, making them 1-9 over their last 10. Thanks to their 8-4 start, they still remain within striking distance of the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference, while most middle-of-the-pack teams who dropped nine straight would be well out of the picture. What seemed like a promising run to start the season quickly shifted, and it appeared the Magic had gone off the rails quicker than lines accumulate at Disney World. Sitting at 11th place in the East, there are still plenty of reasons to keep faith in this Magic team. The obvious reason being that the season is still in its early stages, but a closer look reveals the compelling impact the three-pointer has played in each of the Magic’s wins and losses.
Photo taken by Jose Garcia
The Magic do not necessarily possess the reputation of a team that depends on the three-pointer to win games, such as the Rockets. In the middle of the recently ended nine-game skid, the three ball was arguably the deciding factor in each of the games. In their recent loss to the almost fully-processed 76ers, JJ Redick connected for eight three-pointers out of the teams’ total 16. The Sixers shot 47.1% from deep that game, nearly 10% higher than their team average. In seven of the nine losses the Magic’s opponent connected from three-point range at a higher percentage than their average. This included the Pacers hitting almost 58% from deep, the Trail Blazers hitting at 51.9% from three, and the Celtics who dropped 17 threes. Opponents averaged over 12 threes per game against the Magic during their losing streak, which is higher than the league average of about 10.4 threes per game. The two games out of the nine the Magic held their opponent to below their average three-point percentage were against a Steph Curry-less Warriors team, and against the Timberwolves. In the former game, Kevin Durant and a rebounding onslaught led to the loss.
The matchup against the Timberwolves went into halftime with the Magic down by three, seemingly playing in a very winnable game. By the end of the third, however, the Magic were down by 26. So, what happened? Well, the Magic held the Timberwolves to less than 35% three-point shooting over the course of the game but proceeded to turn the ball over 15 times, losing the turnover battle by seven. Additionally, it’s difficult to win when your opponent gets to the free throw line 45 times. In the disastrous third quarter, the Timberwolves made 13 free throws, almost as many points as the Magic scored in the entire quarter. In the one Magic game this season where the team with the higher three-point percentages did not end up with the win, the Brooklyn Nets were outshot from three but hit 12 more free throws than Orlando.
The Magic simply were not able to put together a complete game during the skid. A complete game in this context entails one in which turnovers are minimized, second-chance opportunities are reduced by winning the rebounding battle, and Orlando avoids being rained on from three-point distance. The glaring statistic that stands out is the three-pointer over this recent disappointing stretch. The NBA average team three-point percentage is 36% yet over the nine losses Magic opponents connected at over 43%.
In their nine wins, including victories over the Cavaliers, Spurs, and Thunder, the Magic outshot their opponent from three-point range. Compared to a 43% opponent three-point percentage in their last nine losses, in their nine wins the Magic have held opponents to 29%. The Magic are connecting at a 44% clip in their nine wins, well above the league average. Additionally, opponents are making just over seven threes per game in Magic wins, relative to over 12 in losses.
With the losing streak over thanks in part to stellar three-point shooting against the Thunder, one important statistic to keep an eye on as the season progresses is Orlando’s three-point percentage, as well as their opponents’. While the entire story of a game cannot be told based solely on three-point percentages, in 21 of the 22 Magic games so far this season, these figures have determined win or loss. If Orlando can find consistency from three-point range, there’s reason to keep the faith, for the Magic have too much talent to endure another jeopardizing losing streak.