ORLANDO — The shock of a day of upheaval was still settling in as Stan Van Gundy got to the podium pregame. Van Gundy there preached how the acquisition of Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu would mean this team would be better offensively. He then preached, it will not matter how good Orlando’s new offense might be if the team does not bring a defensive mentality.
That is what the Magic were built on for the last three years and that is the foundation that crumbled beneath Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis upon their exit. The last six games, where the Magic had lost five, was a lesson in what inconsistent defense can do to a team.
Nothing would change Saturday at Amway Center. And something will need to change with the guys left behind after a day of dealing when the new guys arrive Sunday in Atlanta to prepare for Monday’s divisional game with the Hawks.
The Magic gave up 31 points in the third quarter, the defense failing them once again early in the second half, and could not climb the hill they put themselves in. An aggressive 76ers team defeated the depleted Magic 97-89 at Amway Center on Saturday. Perhaps raising more questions than providing any answers.
“We defended for a half,” Stan Van Gundy said. “I thought we really tried hard in the first half. We didn’t defend in the second half. We didn’t have enough offense to overcome the fact that we wouldn’t defend in the second half. And that’s the story of the game.”
Indeed it was once again as this broken record continues to play.
Philadelphia shot 14 for 21 in the third quarter in scoring 31 points to take a seven-point lead into the fourth. From there, Philadelphia got into the bonus early — 7:13 left in the fourth quarter to be exact — and went to the line 18 times. Lou Williams went to the line nine times alone. Despite shooting five for 13 in the period, Philadelphia’s 15-for-18 performance at the charity stripe proved to be enough as the Magic simply could not muster an effort to seriously threaten the lead.
The 31 free throws the 76ers took should be exhibit A for the Magic’s defensive woes. It helped nullify a solid night on the boards and somewhat decent defensive numbers throughout the game. It obviously was nowhere near enough as the defensive intensity was not present to cut into the lead, let alone win the game.
Van Gundy was hearing no excuses, believing that the fact Orlando was reduced to eight players by the trade did not matter, he just wants somebody to guard somebody. He said the guys in the locker room have to turn it around and the guys coming in won’t do it. He characterized the defense as “absurd.”
“Right now, it wouldn’t matter,” Van Gundy said. “We could play a college team right now because we’re not guarding anybody. If you’re not going to guard anybody, every game is going to be very very difficult. We’re not willing to put in the work for 48 minutes. We put in the work for 24. They’re tired of hearing it, but it’s the same story every game.”
Williams was a key culprit with 24 points on only nine field goals off the bench. He hit 13 of his 14 attempts from the line and posted a 79.2 true shooting percentage according to the Advanced Stats Calculator, hitting a crushing bailout 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to put the game seemingly out of reach.
Orlando just did not have the offensive muster to ever threaten once Philadelphia took control in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not going to make excuses at all,” Jameer Nelson said. “I felt that we had the opportunity to make a run and we never made that run for whatever reason. You can’t blame it on one thing. Defensively, we’ve got to find a way.”
The Magic shot 41.4 percent for the game and only 3 for 15 from beyond the arc. Dwight Howard played well with 26 points and 20 rebounds. But he shot only 8 for 18 and settled for jumpers (can’t believe I just wrote that sentence). He had 13 and 11 at the half, but never really dominated the game like he usually does against Philadelphia.
“We’ve just got to get better as a team,” Dwight Howard said. “The front office did what it thought was best for the team. We had a tough loss tonight, but we’re going to get better. It’s December, we’ve got a long season. I told the guys tonight, don’t get too frustrated with us losing. It happens to the best teams. Sometimes you’ve got to lose to win. You can’t allow losses distract us from what our goal is. It’s been a tough stretch for us, but the sun always comes back up when the next day.”
Whether the team wants to admit it or not, the emotions of the day probably got the best of them. It is not an excuse for coming out and laying an egg in the second half, but it certainly explained the feeling in the building. Something was not right, and you could tell early.