Orlando Magic Notebook: Adjusting To The Defense, Playing Half A Game

New Defensive Mindset

Orlando’s newest perimeter players, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson, have never been known as lock-down defenders.

That doesn’t mean the potential to be a good defender isn’t there and both have shown flashes of doing so at different point in their career.

Playing defense for the Orlando Magic is a completely new concept for each player. They’re part of a brand new system and it’s one they haven’t really seen before.

“I’m trying to get the old system out,” Arenas explained. “It’s basically, don’t let them drive, protect the middle.”

With Dwight Howard in the middle, a lot of things have changed for Arenas and Richardson.

“Now, he’s telling me, run at that guy,” Arenas said. “A lot of people are hitting shots because I’m stopping short, now I just run them off the line because of the big fella… its okay because he’s down there.”

Howard, of course, is the two-time reigning Defensive Players of the Year and protects the paint better than any player in the league.

“Whatever you did in previous years with previous teams and previous coaches, it has to go out the window,” Jameer Nelson explained. “Now the game is predicated on our defense. Our defense helps us offensively. It gives us energy and when Dwight’s out there rebounding and block shots like he’s doing, those guys have to know that they go all out on their man and hopefully stay on their man and know that they have a shot blocker and the best defensive player in Dwight behind them.”

It sound like adjusting to a player of Howard’s caliber should be easy, but that’s simply not true. Plus, not only do Arenas and Richardson need to adjust to playing with Howard but they are on a team that focuses on the defensive end more than or at least as much any other team in the league. Magic Head Coach is defensive minded and would much rather see his team give maximum effort on that end of the floor than anything else.

When you’ve played on teams like Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, that’s a big change.

“It takes more than just 18 days to adjust to new guys and adjust to a system,” Howard said. “These guys have played for different teams and I’m pretty sure none of the teams they’ve played are like this team as far as the way Stan (Van Gundy) practices and the way he teaches defense.”

Luckily for Arenas and Richardson, Orlando’s captains, Nelson and Howard, are happy to help.

“He’s (Arenas) still trying to learn what we’re trying to do,” Nelson said. “I’m just trying to help him any way I can.”

“Me and Jameer being the leaders, we have to be vocal and show the guys the right way to go so they can fall in line,” Howard said.

When you’re in a new system like this, it’s easy to say that all you have to do is buy in but it’s the truth. There’s nothing overly complicated about what the Magic, or any other NBA team for that matter, do, it’s just a matter of quickly learning the system and showing your knowledge through your performance on the course.

Nelson thinks Arenas and Richardson are on the right track.

“They bought into the system,” Nelson said. “That’s the biggest thing you have to do, you have to buy into it.”

A Tale Of Two Halves

In each of the Orlando Magic’s last two games, they’ve been plagued by inconsistent play, playing one good half and one poor half in each game.

Luckily for the Magic, they played the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks so they were able to come away with two victories.

Against the Warriors, the Magic 39.5% from the field and allowed the Warriors to shoot 47.8% the field and hit five 3-pointers. They were outrebounded 25-17 and trailed 53-44. The Magic then scored 66 second half points on 59.0% shooting from the field and went 12-of-21 from beyond the arc while holding the Warriors to just 37 points on 33.3% shooting from the field.

“I thought in the first half, I was upset with our effort and our energy,” Van Gundy explained. “I just didn’t think we put much into the game. And that’s why the score was what it was. And then in the second half, we played with good energy and ball movement and played a great half.”

Against the Bucks, the halves were reversed. The Magic got out to a 49-33 halftime lead, while holding the Bucks to just 34.1% shooting from the field. The Bucks rallied in the second half, cutting the lead to as little as five before the Magic closed the game out for a 97-87 win. The Bucks, who are the worst offensive team in the league in terms of offensive rating, scored 54 second half points.

“I thought in the second half, they (the Bucks) clearly played a lot harder than us,” Van Gundy said. They killed us on the offensive glass; we didn’t put much into the game. We played the second half of this game the way we played the first half of the Warriors game.”

Van Gundy thinks the Magic have become a little complacent now that their rotation is virtually set. He didn’t want to single out any one player because he was upset with the entire team but he used Ryan Anderson’s recent rebounding troubles as an example. After seeing him go through a stretch where he attacked the glass, his effort on the board hasn’t been nearly as good.

Anderson has grabbed 5 rebounds in the last two games after grabbing 30 in his previous five games.

“It seems like we watched the scoreboard a little bit too much and that shouldn’t be the case,” Nelson said following their win over the Bucks.

Dwight Howard seemingly agreed with what Van Gundy said and knows they need to get it corrected.

“We just have to learn to do a better job of closing teams out and bringing the same energy to the game that we would bring if we playing against a team like Boston, L.A. or Miami,” Howard said. “We have to be consistent with that. We can’t just show up and expect to win every night.”

The pattern here is Orlando’s effort and energy. When they gave their maximum effort, they are tough to beat.

“I don’t think we’ve figured it out yet but when we don’t put much into it, we’re not very good,” Van Gundy said. “At some point, we’ll figure it out that to be good we have to play hard all the time and play with energy all the time. We haven’t been able to do that for more than one half in the last two games so that’s where we are. Luckily, we’ve had one really good half in each of the last two games.

“We’ll see what happens, hopefully we’ll get better at it,” Van Gundy added.

News & Notes

To further show Orlando’s ups-and-downs in these last few games, the 66 second half points they scored against the Warriors was a season-high while the 33 first half points they held the Bucks to was a season-low.

The Magic are now a on a season-high seven-game win streak and their five-game home winning streak tired their season-high.

J.J. Redick tied a career-high with 7 rebounds against the Bucks Wednesday night.

The Magic are now 20-6 when holding their opponent under 100 points this season.

Orlando returns to action Friday night when they host the Houston Rockets in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN.