“Practice? We’re talking about practice? I don’t know maybe.”
Jameer Nelson sheepishly smiled when he said that when asked whether the team actually needed practice.
Orlando has burned off five games in a row and is 5-2 after the trades two weeks ago. The Magic have taken down the Spurs and the Celtics in that process and have displayed some of the grit and toughness the 2009 Finals team displayed.
The amazing thing might be that Orlando has done all that with just one practice — the day after a back-to-back — under their belt. Pretty amazing statement and a sign of what this team can do.
But there is still plenty this team needs to correct, especially on defense. And that is undoubtedly the focus of yesterday’s practice and practice tomorrow.
“I think we’ll put in some things offensively and try to get more familiar with what we are trying to do,” Stan Van Gundy said after Thursday’s 112-103 victory over the Knicks. “But the big focus is going to on the defensive end of the floor. We are still making too many mistakes.”
With just one practice, Orlando is still learning things through walk-throughs, shootarounds and Stan Van Gundy’s in-game adjustments and advice. It is far from the finished product the Magic will need to be in the Playoffs if they want to win and compete for a championship.
The Magic are currently fourth in the league in defensive rating according to Basketball-Reference.com, giving up 101.5 points per 100 possessions. During the five-game win streak, Orlando has given up above that average three times and have given up 100 points per 100 possessions four times in seven games. The three teams they held below the one point per possession mark were Cleveland, New Jersey and Boston.
Thursday against the Knicks, the Magic gave up 36.4 percent shooting in the first half to take an 18-point lead into the half. In the second half, New York shot 57.9 percent and six for 12 from beyond the arc to close the gap and win the second half by nine points.
“I thought we came out with good focus [Thursday],” Van Gundy said. “I thought guys were really trying to cover and then they got into some things that gave us some problems. I thought what our guys did well was what we did in the walk-through this morning in terms of the gameplan, I thought we played really really well. When different situations came up and Mike made some adjustments, we weren’t real good at handling those things. Once we know what is going on and we’re all on the same page we will be better at that.”
Orlando’s defense has shown a ton of promise, but there is still a ways to go for the team to get where it wants to go — probably performances like the Christmas Day win over Boston. As Van Gundy pointed out, the team is still learning how to make defensive adjustments and in-game changes are still throwing them for a loop.
Obviously there is a lot of work left to do. And having a few practices will help.
“We’re doing it on the fly for the most part,” Nelson said. “I think the new guys are getting it and understanding our defensive philosophy, they understand our rotations and what we are trying to do on offense. it’s kind of simplified in terms of what we are able to do. I’m quite sure it will expand once guys get more comfortable with their role and the situations.”
Van Gundy said after Thursday’s game he would instill a few more offensive sets and try to get the team on the same page defensively. This team will get better with practice and no one is denying that fact.
Howard said he and the other players have been watching film independently to try and stay on the same page. So the players could see what they need to work on from their perspective. As Howard has continually said all year, the team is not playing for December. They are playing for June. So it is important to get things right now.
“We need practice,” Howard said. “That’s the only way we are going to get better. We need practice. We need to get better. the new guys will learn the defensive rotations. We don’t want to be complacent. We’ve been playing great basketball. There is a lot of things we need to work on.