With all the talk of Orlando’s 3-point shooters and the discussion of Orlando’s lack of a go-to perimeter scorer, it is easy to forget sometimes that this is a team built on defense. The one thing Stan Van Gundy has been able to do most sucessfully is turn the Magic into one of the best defensive teams in the league. In all four of Van Gundy’s seasons at the helm, Orlando has finished no lower than sixth in the league in defensive rating and have been in the top three the last three years.
Even with those stats backing things up, nobody thinks of Orlando as a defensive juggernaut even with Dwight Howard in the paint.
You would not know that from the game on Sunday. Orlando came out a little flat and a little lethargic and got outhustled and beat by Miami 118-81. It does not take a genius to know from watching that game that the Magic did not have the same kind fire, energy and intensity as the Heat and the Heat were able to just run past the Magic once the shots started falling in bunches in the third and fourth quarters.
The intensity and energy were not there Sunday night. That is what Orlando worked on first and foremost when the team returned to practice Tuesday.
“Quite honestly (offense) is a lower priority right now until we play harder and compete harder, none of the rest of it will really matter,” Van Gundy said. “At the point that we get to playing hard and really making a commitment defensively on a consistent basis, then the rest of the stuff will really matter.
“What we did today is we got an idea of how we need to play. And that’s the first step. The second step is to sustain that and make it a habit. The third step is to refine what you’re doing and make fewer and fewer mistakes at both ends of the floor. Right now, to be honest, the mistakes are not even as big a concern for me as we just have to bring a much higher energy and intensity level than we did the other night.”
Van Gundy said the team focused specifically on working to run back harder and make the extra effort defensively. The team certainly needed to re-emphasize the team’s “Defensive Musts” — Get Back, Protect the Paint, Close Hard and Contest. It is hard to say whether Orlando did those things consistently if at all in Sunday’s exhibition game.
Van Gundy said it was the best day the team has had in training camp as far as the effort and intensity on the defensive end. The trick is getting the team to play consistently and copy that effort and intensity in Wednesday’s game and then again in Thursday’s practice.
Players have to have short memories and certainly everyone wants to forget a 30-plus point loss. Quentin Richardson said the team has to bounce back and also noted how hard the team played. Dwight Howard was preaching to his teammates that the team needs to move on and not dwell too much on the mistakes. Clearly playing hard is what is most important right now.
“It is the first game, there’s no need to go back to what happened,” Dwight Howard said. “It was Sunday night. Today is a new day. We didn’t play well.
“Just come back and play better the next game instead of dwelling on what we did wrong and all the mistakes we made. I don’t think there’s any need for us to be dwelling on the past. It was always in our heads during the games. So I just told the guys to stick together. We’re going to play better. We’re trying to get accustomed to playing with each other. We’ll be fine.”
Maybe the loss Sunday served as something of a wake-up call. But that wake-up call will not matter if the team does not follow suit with a consistent effort.
Even though there is less than a week before the season, the team has only been in training camp for a few weeks and have not had the time to really come together and, most importantly, get into game shape. There is a lot of work left to do to accomplish that, and that goes for most teams.
What is clear is that the Magic need to come into each game with a heightened level of urgency to find the success they want.
“We still have a long, long way to go,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not like a wake up call like we’re going to be able to flip a switch and play better. I mean a wake up call in terms of the pace, the quickeness and the intensity that needs to pick up. I thought it was, at least for today, it served that purpose in terms of the intensity and energy in our practice did go way up.
“It was great, but that happens all the time when you come off a bad loss in this league. Everybody will come into practice the next day and go to work real hard. The test is will we play harder tomorrow and will we come back on thursday and practice hard and will this start to be a habit for us? That’s the question and really the one that matters.”