Defense becoming Dominant Again
It is becoming abundantly clear that defense is the key to any type of success Orlando will have this season. The team was first in the league in defensive efficiency last season and are fourth in the league after last night’s game.
But take a look at the numbers the last three games.
Against Charlotte last night, Orlando gave up 92 points in regulation and 39.8 percent shooting. Yes, there was a blown 10-point lead in there, but the Magic buckled down and gave up just three points in overtime. More on their clutch play in a moment. Orlando’s defensive rating was a stellar 98.1 last night in Charlotte.
The night before, Orlando dominated defensively with 12 blocked shots and conceded only 10 points in a tell-tale second quarter. The Kings shot just 33.3 percent from the floor. The Magic’s defensive efficiency rating for the game was an incredible 83.6.
Wednesday’s game against Indiana was the team’s worst defensive effort in the last three-game winning streak. But the offense worked so well that it really did not matter. The defense was good enough to keep the Pacers down and knock them out of the game early (although it got scary at the end). Their defensive rating was still a 99.1. Not bad.
Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson are still clutch
It was not long ago that a lot of people were entertaining the idea that JJ Redick should start over Vince Carter or Carter should be held back until he had fully recovered from his should strain. Also Jameer Nelson has had his struggles after his stellar season last year and has fallen hard back to the mean.
Both players have been very disappointing to say the least.
But last night, both players came up big and led Orlando to victory. Carter scored 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, hitting on two of his six 3-point attempts. After scoring in double digits for the first time since Jan. 1 in Friday’s game against the Kings, Carter came back to score 20 points for the first time since a Dec. 30 game against Milwaukee.
Carter has been attacking the basket a lot more and that has helped set everything else up for Orlando’s offense.
Also driving to the basket more and looking to attack is Jameer Nelson. Nelson also scored 21 points and made eight of his 12 shots. When Nelson is in attack mode in general, it makes Orlando very difficult to contain. Especially since he and Howard have such good chemistry.
Last night, both players helped Orlando close out Charlotte in overtime. Nelson hit a few big shots at the end of regulation and it carried over to the end of the game. These two guys are still the players Stan Van Gundy wants to give the ball to at the end of games.
Orlando still in the Upper Class of the East
The Bobcats are a very good team. They are tops in the league in defensive efficiency and carried a nine-game home winning streak into last night’s game.
The Magic did a very good defensive number on them and took care of a team they very likely could see in the first round of the playoffs.
In doing what they have the last three games, I think Orlando has shown that it was just a funk they were in. There were a lot of moving parts and a lot of general frustration. But the Magic are playing at a higher level now. They are starting to kick it into a higher gear and playing like everyone expected them to.
There is still a long way to go and the doubts from the “funk” still exist. But it is not a catastrophe situation like some may have thought coming off the 1-3 West Coast road trip.