ORLANDO — Early in the third quarter of the Magic’s season opener against the Heat, Derrick Jones Jr. picked up his fourth foul against Aaron Gordon, and Jones was forced to sit down early after entering the game as a starter. Gordon’s size and strength had been a problem for Miami all night. He was getting anywhere he wanted on the floor and the Heat just couldn’t figure out a way to stop him. Well, they had ways to stop him, but then that let Nikola Vucevic get a mismatch in the post or Jonathan Isaac had a wide open lane to run at the rim.
The Heat’s problem wasn’t that they didn’t have the personnel to counter individual Magic players. Their problem was that it was weird to have them all on the floor at the same time. A frontcourt of Vucevic, Isaac, and Gordon was just too long and quick for the Heat’s starting unit to handle. It put Jones into immediate foul trouble as Gordon was burning the Heat with the mismatch on the wing. They had to do something about it, but what do you do? Try to play him like a four, or maybe as a three? Will that give you the ability to still guard Vucevic and Isaac?
“When I play the small forward it just gives the other small forwards problems.” Gordon told UPROXX. “Cause I’m just bigger and more physical than they are. I draw quick fouls so now they gotta play bigs and that’s something they’re not used to and when I’m at the four they’re not used to guarding perimeter play.”
That problem Gordon causes makes the usually dull Magic one of the more fascinating teams to watch this season. How are teams going to fight these insanely long lineups Orlando is going to be running on a nightly basis? The Magic’s roster construction is bizarre, with so many big men and so few guards, but while it’s possible that will be a problem for them at times, they’re going to make you adjust to them or suffer the consequences.
For the Heat, they decided to go just as big as Orlando. With Jones in foul trouble, they didn’t throw out another wing but instead put big man Bam Adebayo on the floor next to Hassan Whiteside. Adebayo is fast and skilled enough to let Miami do this and it ended up being pretty effective too. In nine minutes of play time together, the two big men sharing the floor together outscored Orlando by one point. However, they only shot 1-for-6 from 3-point range and their spacing regressed to the dinosaur era.
The Heat don’t like to play Adebayo and Whiteside together. They only played 52 minutes total together in the 2017-18 NBA season. There just isn’t enough spacing with those two sharing the court, but it was also the only way they could effectively slow down the giant lineups that Orlando was running. The scary part? They can get even bigger. The Magic still had rookie Mohamed Bamba sitting on the bench waiting for his own opportunities to cause chaos.