There is one positive for the Magic even through this stretch of losing 15 of 17 games. While the defense has fallen apart, the offense has picked up the slack and has played extremely well.
In the last 10 games (where Orlando has gone 2-8, mind you), the Magic have had an average offensive rating of 106.9. The team's offensive rating for the season is 103.2, good for 21st in the league. The Magic have had a below their average offensive rating in seven of the last 19 games.
After the slow offensive start, the Magic have gotten their offense together.
"I think that’s been the interesting part," Jacque Vaughn said in early January before Glen Davis' return. "We talked about Glen’s absence at the beginning and everyone was wondering how we were going to manage his 16 and 8.
"It’s really produced us shooting the 3 at a higher rate – more of them. That’s a good and a positive that’s come from this. We’ve seen our ability to continue to create for each other. Once Glen and our other guys get back, that’s going to be a great environment because he’s a weapon for us and we’ll be able to use the growth on the offensive end. I’m excited about that."
And that production has obviously not slowed since his return. What has slowed is Orlando's winning and that is largely a product of the team's defensive struggles.
Still, there is no denying that the Magic's offense has been better. Even though the team still has its struggles getting to the foul line, the team is putting up a lot more point than it was at the beginning of the season.
Vaughn was right at the beginning of the month, Orlando is making a lot more 3-pointers and that is a big reason why. The Magic have not made fewer than five 3-pointers in a game since Dec. 21, a stretch of 17 games. Yes, that was the Toronto game that started this losing slide.
In the first 26 games, Orlando had only 10 games making more than five 3-pointers. If you take making and taking good 3-pointers as a sign of the team getting better ball movement. Again, there is no doubt Orlando is doing a better job on the offensive end.
Right now, the Magic are realizing what Jacque Vaughn has been saying about his offense from the beginning of the season. Vaughn has always said he does not know who the leading scoer will be each night, nor does he know who will take the most shots. All things aside, Vaughn probably would have been satisfied with Arron Afflalo taking only four shots in favor of J.J. Redick's efficient shooting if it had turned out to be a closer game.
Vaughn told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel a few weeks ago that the final phase of the offense has been installed and it is pretty clear that the team is understanding the whole picture now offensively.
It would be nice to have that offensive structure — or perhaps for some of the higher volume shooters like Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis to score more efficiently — the unpredictability and the way Vaughn has set up the offense enables the team to plug new guys easily.
Despite the offensive improvements, the team has not seen it translate into victories. Porous defense will do that to you.
And even at the beginning of this losing stretch, the team knew it had to fix its defense to match the increase in offensive efficiency the team was experiencing:
"Even though we were right there and we kept scoring, we are not going to win a lot of games [that way]," Nikola Vucevic said after the home loss to the Jazz. "We have to get stops. We had a couple stretches where we got two or three stops in a row but we couldn’t score on the other end."
There definitely is some of that sense that Orlando can get one but not the other. Can get stops when the team cannot score and score when the team cannot get stops. Thus is the quandary of an inconsistent young team.
The margin for error for Orlando is low. Vaughn knew that when he took the job. The players understand that too. That is why Vucevic and all the other players stress getting stops now that the defense is struggling when before they were stressing the need to keep grinding on offense.
"It’s kind of like Darwinism and survival of the fittest," J.J. Redick said. "Our offense is not very good. So that’s a reason our defense has been good. It has given us a chance to win games."
Everything Orlando does is built off of the ability to defend. And right now with the defense struggling, it does not matter much what the offense is doing.
Know that there has been improvement on the offensive end. The Magic are playing better there. Unfortunately, offense is not where games are won most nights.