Magic’s slumping offense just can’t compete in Game 2 loss to Cavs

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Magic’s slumping offense just can’t compete in Game 2 loss to Cavs

CLEVELAND — The Orlando Magic’s long-term outlook looks rosy. They intend to build around 21-year-old All-Star Paolo Banchero, 22-year-old two-way terror Franz Wagner and 22-year-old defensive ace Jalen Suggs. With that young talent already on the roster, the franchise is in a good place.

Right now, though, in the heat of a first-round playoff matchup that is going poorly, you have to squint really hard to see that big picture.

The Magic’s current weaknesses — inexperience, a lack of shooting and minimal playmaking, especially from their backcourt — have been exposed. In a Game 2 defeat more lopsided than the final score indicates, the Magic fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-86 on Monday night and now trail the series 2-0. With the Cavaliers packing the paint and daring them to shoot from long range, the Magic just cannot muster enough offense to compete.

“Our defense is what we thought it was, but it ain’t going to win us a game,” Banchero said. “We’ve got to be better on the other end.”

Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said his team needs to start games better, and he’s correct, of course. Orlando opened the game 5-for-17 from the field, missed its first seven 3-point tries and ended the first quarter down 30-18. “You can play ’em even all you want the rest of the way, but we have to do a better job of coming out with an intensity and a fight to hit from the beginning of the game,” Mosley said.

So, how do they do that? Mosley would not pinpoint why his team has struggled so often at the start of games, a trend that began late in the regular season, but one option would be to tweak the starting lineup, perhaps returning Wendell Carter Jr. to the starting center spot and moving Jonathan Isaac back to the bench.

Isaac missed both of the 3-point tries he attempted during his first stint on the floor. Asked what the starting unit could do better, Isaac pointed the finger at himself. “Honestly, I think it’s just me,” Isaac said. “I think it’s me just being able to space the floor. If I can hit one early, it keeps Jarrett Allen honest. I’ve got to make shots.”

One game after Donovan Mitchell was the best player on the court, it was Allen’s turn Monday. Cleveland’s starting center scored 16 points, piled up 20 rebounds — a whopping nine of them on the offensive glass — and blocked three shots. There’s no way Allen and his Cavaliers teammates will stop packing the paint unless the Magic make them pay by sinking the 3-point shots the Cavs are daring them to attempt.

Also worrisome: The Magic seemed to lose their composure when Suggs suffered a left knee injury with 4:02 remaining in the first quarter. Teammates left the bench area to surround him on the other end of the floor as athletic trainers examined him. With tears in his eyes, Suggs had to be helped off the court, and the injury looked serious.

Suggs’ role goes beyond his defense at the point of attack. Though Banchero and Wagner are Orlando’s best players, Suggs is the team’s heartbeat.

Cleveland closed the quarter on a 14-5 run.

“Jalen is one of the heart and souls of this team,” Carter said. “When he goes down, the first thing was hoping that it wasn’t that serious and hoping that he was going to be able to come back in the game. But for the team, he does all the little things that may not show up in the stat sheet. He’s a phenomenal shooter on top of that. We kind of all been off these first two games. But he just gives effort. He gives effort, and you can’t really teach that. You can’t really coach that. That’s kind of just in you. When he went down, we kind of lost that.”

Donovan Mitchell, along with Darius Garland, has given the Cavaliers a significant skill advantage. (David Richard / USA Today)

Suggs returned for the second half, saying it was important “to continue to set the tone, continue to have not only my presence felt but our presence felt as a team. This is a series. It’s not one game, two games. It’s a marathon.”

But by the time Suggs returned to the court for the start of the third quarter, his team trailed by 14 points. With the way the offense was struggling, that deficit was too significant to overcome.

“We’re not scoring enough,” Wagner said. “I thought again we got good looks from 3. But yeah, (we went) only 9-for-35. Only 83 points.”

Suggs’ knee, which Magic officials called a strain, will be re-evaluated in Florida. But Suggs said he expects to be able to play in Game 3 on Thursday night.

Suggs and his teammates hope returning to Orlando will swing the series’ momentum. The Magic compiled the league’s sixth-best home record during the regular season, going 29-12 in front of their fans.

“We’re going to need them,” Banchero said. “I mean, just seeing how much the fans lift them guys (on the Cavs) up being here playing those two games, they feed off it. It helps you make shots, helps you make plays, helps you give that extra effort. So, we’re definitely going to need the fans.”

That’s the hope for the short term: that playing at home will be the magical salve the team so badly needs.

The long-term future might look good, but it provides little solace at the moment with Mitchell, Allen and Darius Garland bearing down on them. For now, the Magic’s short-term fears about this series have all come to fruition.

(Top photo of Jonathan Isaac and Jarrett Allen: David Richard / USA Today)