Magic Defense Becoming A Cause For Concern?

Magic Lacking Energy, Effort On Defense

The Orlando Magic’s improvement on the offensive end since the deals that brought them Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas and Earl Clark has been well-documented and rightfully so. Since the deals were completed, the Magic are scoring 8.5 more points per game, are shooting at a higher percentage from the field (46.7% to 46.4%) and from beyond the arc (41.5% to 35.2%) but their poor play on the defensive end in a cause for concern.

The Magic were giving up 92.8 points per game before December 20th, which was the first time the team played together, and are giving up 97.7 points per game since. Of course, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy’s desire to push the pace has played a role in their opponent’s increased scoring but Orlando’s defense is clearly not on the level it needs to be.

“I thought that we’ve come together offensively quicker than I thought we would have, but we still need to work on our defense,” Van Gundy told reporters.

Despite the clear improvements the Magic made with their trades, they gave up some nice defensive pieces. Mickael Pietrus was the team’s best perimeter defender while Marcin Gortat gave the Magic a solid, defensive presence in the middle when the league’s best defensive player, Dwight Howard, was out of the game.

Clearly, it’s going to take time for Orlando’s new players to get acclimated with a new system,  but the Magic need to start showing some improvement on the defensive end of the court.

During Orlando’s overtime loss to the New Orleans Hornets last Wednesday, the Magic played pretty good defense for the most part but broke down for stretches. One of those stretches came in the third quarter when the Magic let Chris Paul weave through their defense, leading the Hornets to a 27-point quarter and a six-point lead. The Hornets went on to win the game in overtime.

A day later in Oklahoma City, the Magic were absolutely torched by the Thunder. Kevin Durant scored 36 points on just 17 shots while Russell Westbrook finished with 32 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. The Thunder shot 56.4% from the field and 50.0% from beyond the arc. Afterwards, Van Gundy told reporters there wasn’t one possession he liked on the defensive end.

Having a poor defensive night against an offense the caliber of Oklahoma City isn’t something to worry but having one against a team like the Timberwolves, like the Magic did Saturday night, is. Playing against one of the league’s worst teams (the Timberwolves rank 22nd in the NBA in offensive rating and were without leading scorer Michael Beasley), the Magic still allowed the Timberwolves to score 99 points. Former Florida Gator Corey Brewer, who’s averaging just 8.9 points per game this season, torched the Magic for 23 points while Luke Ridnour, who’s averaging 11.5 points per contest, finished with 19 points in the game.

It was even worse Monday night. Although the Magic had a good night offensively and took the Celtics to the wire in Boston, they allowed the Celtics to score 109 points and shoot a stunning 60.0% from the field.

The pick-and-roll and screens in general have given the Magic a lot of trouble. Seeing as the pick-and-roll is the most commonly run play in the NBA, that has to change. Orlando’s perimeter defenders have made it too easy for their opponents their opponents to get the basket causing Howard to not only get into foul trouble but to leave his man to defend the driver, giving opponents an open man under the basket. In their loss to the Celtics, Jason Richardson and his teammates could not fight through or around screens to stay on Ray Allen, who scored 13 of his 26 points in the decisive fourth quarter.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t reason for hope. Orlando’s December acquisitions aren’t known as lock-down defenders, but with Dwight Howard behind them, they simply have to know what to do and make a conscious effort to do it.

The Magic have only played with their full group for 15 game and that is something that can only come with time.

“We still have a long way to go,” Van Gundy said of Orlando’s defense.

Van Gundy has continuously said Orlando’s defense has to get much better for them to realistically compete with the upper echelon of the league.

If it doesn’t, you won’t see the Magic reach the Eastern Conference Finals for a third consecutive season.

News & Notes:

  • The Magic have a chance to start to turn things around when they host the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night at 7:00 pm EST.
  • The 76ers defeated the Magic on December 18th 97-89 behind 24 points from Lou Williams, 21 points from Andre Iguodala and 20 points from Elton Brand.
  • Dwight Howard poured in 26 points and 20 rebounds in that meeting while Jameer Nelson had 17 points and nine assists.
  • It should be noted the Magic were without Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark because it was the day those acquisitions became official.
  • The Magic are 56-27 all time against the 76ers and 31-10 at home.
  • Tracy McGrady has the best all-time scoring performance against the 76ers for the Magic when he dropped 44 points on March 28th, 2001 while Allen Iverson has scored more points against the Magic than any other Magic player, pouring in 60 points on February 12th, 2005.
  • Orlando is now 26-15 at the official half point of the NBA season. Last year, they had the exact same record at this point.