Defense Lets Magic Down Against Bulls


The Magic were down three points late in Friday’s game. It had been a horrible offense and defensive night, especially in the second half. But there they were with a chance to win the game. Dwight Howard had 40 points to that point and had done just about everything to keep Orlando within shouting distance.

So of course the ball went to Hedo Turkoglu. He promptly missed a pull-up jumper. Down five, Turkoglu got the ball again and missed a 3-pointer. Next possession a turnover on a lazy skip pass.

This is not to put everything on Turkoglu for the Magic’s disappointing 99-90 loss to the Bulls at United Center on Friday. But 2-for-12 shooting sure does not help your cause. Neither does Luol Deng going for 26 points and sparking a 20-5 run to start the third quarter.

Yes, it was that kind of night for the Magic. Offense came at a premium against the top defensive team in the league. It mostly came through Dwight Howard. His season-high 40 points was the bright spot for a team that really struggled to find its offense in the second half.

Chicago held Orlando to 39 points in the second half and 41 percent shooting for the game. Worse, Orlando shot a horrid 5 for 21 from beyond the arc. The Magic struggled to get to the basket throughout the game and, except when getting the ball to Howard, settled for jumpers.

Meanwhile, the Bulls did their job attacking the Magic and forcing the defense to shift and rotate. For yet another game, Orlando gave up a ton of 3-pointers. Chicago was 8 for 18 from beyond the arc. Unlike Orlando’s 3s, those attempts came off of great ball movement and drives by Derrick Rose.

Even worse, Chicago attacked the offensive glass — 16 offensive boards in the game — and used it to keep the game tight in the first half.

Orlando was pushing the pace and attacking. The defense was aggressive and active. It looked like Orlando would put together a solid road victory against one of the better teams in the East. A five-point lead at halftime sure looked pretty good. The Magic had 17 fast break points and just one turnover.

But those 12 offensive rebounds lingered as a sign the team was not finishing defensive possessions. And eventually Chicago would make Orlando pay.

Compounding the problem, the Magic committed seven turnovers in the third quarter and 10 for the second half. Compounding the problem even further, the Magic could not hit a shot to save their lives. Did I mention that already?

Orlando was definitely not in a good rhythm offensively and Chicago took advantage, winning the hustle points all around the court.

Howard scored 40 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. The only other player to score in double figures was Gilbert Arenas. And he needed 13 shots for his 11 points. No one else scored more than 10 on a Magic team that is used to seeing offensive balance. The starters, aside from Howard shot 8 for 30 (26.7 percent).

Now, the one thing to take from this game is Jameer Nelson missed the entire second half and checked out of the game seven and a half minutes into the game after taking a knee to his thigh one too many times. Orlando really missed his presence and ability to calm the team and attack the basket.

But would he have cured the defensive woes Orlando faced tonight? Only slightly. Maybe enough to win. Maybe not.

There are a lot of problems with this team that are becoming more and more apparent with each passing game. Chicago is a good team and earned a victory tonight. But the Magic used to be able to win games like this, even when 3-point shots are not falling.

Something is very wrong with this team… or at least different from previous seasons when the Magic were a title contender. They can still be that. But not with defense like in the second half tonight. Chicago got aggressive and confident, and that makes any team difficult to defeat.

Orlando needs a shot in the gut to convince it to get better defensively right now.