Skip Bayless may believe offense is the be-all, end-all of basketball. In fact, Magic fans might feel they are overlooked because of the seemingly predictability of the offense. Orlando’s offense is definitely a source for concern, especially as we get into the postseason.
Those who have watched Orlando know defense has been key to the team’s success the last three seasons. It is what has separated the Magic from other 3-point reliant teams like the Suns of the early-2000s.
Stan Van Gundy always harps on defense. It is usually the first thing he wants to talk about. Having Dwight Howard always helps make the defense better.
Wednesday night in New York, defense was the operative word that turned the game around for Orlando. Stan Van Gundy was very upset about his team’s defense in the first half, where the Magic gave up 59 points including 34 in the second quarter. The Magic looked a little listless and drawn into the Knicks up and down style of play early on. According to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, Stan Van Gundy pointed to defensive keys on the white board inside the locker room at halftime and asked if the team had accomplished any of them.
Nobody could say they had.
Nobody could say they had when Van Gundy called a timeout early in the third quarter as the Knicks extended their lead out to eight points. But after that, the defense was as dominant and solid as it had been just about all year. New York scored only 40 points the rest of the game. The struggling Knicks boast one of the best offenses in the league with a 108.0 offensive efficiency, good for seventh in the league. Their offense has struggled during this recent stretch.
But comparing the second half and the first half of Wednesday’s game, one can see both how good the Knicks can be on offense… and how good the Magic can be on defense.
It was not just that New York scored 40 points in the second half Wednesday. It was that, after shooting nearly 50 percent in the first half, Orlando held New York to a 107.6 offensive efficiency rating on 40.5 percent shooting. The field goal percentage numbers show just the type of u-turn the Knicks took in this game.
Really though, during this recent four-game win streak, it was the worst of Orlando’s defensive performances. In three of Orlando’s previous four games, the team held its opponent below the 1.0 point per possession mark. That is not an easy thing to do.
The defensive performances against Cleveland (for the most part), Milwaukee, Denver and Phoenix are the kinds of performances Orlando has gotten used the past few seasons when it was the top defensive team in the league. The Magic have not been at that level all season, as they have worked to integrate the new players on to the roster.
Really Orlando is going to go as far as its defense takes it. Dwight Howard knows that. Stan Van Gundy knows that.
These last four games have been a positive sign for Orlando. It is perhaps the best the team has played on that end since the All-Star Break. And it is just in the nick of time with the Playoffs coming up.
The most important thing is that Orlando continues to put in the type of effort it did in the second half against New York. When the Magic do that, they are a much more dangerous team.