How the Magic’s Defense Defeated the Lakers


You do not want to read too much into a game in February (before the All-Star Game, at that). As Stan Van Gundy says, until they count certain games more than others, each game is equally important. A nationally televised audience — and Gilbert Arenas — might say otherwise.

Arenas admitted he and his teammates were a little more pumped for Sunday’s matinee against the two-time defending champions. It would be hard not to. I mean, it was only the largest home crowd to ever see an Orlando Magic game Sunday.

Adding to the importance of the win, is that it restored confidence in the team. It was the first victory over a team with a winning record in the last eight tries (really the first time since the nine-game win streak ended). The key will be carrying over the effort into Wednesday’s game against Washington.

The most impressive aspect of Sunday’s win was the sudden (re-)arrival of the Magic’s defense. The Lakers failed to score more than 21 points in any period and the Magic won each period head to head against the defending champions.

The Lakers blogs are blaming fatigue (the Magic were their fifth game in nine days and they went to Charlotte to make is six in 10) and missed jumpers. The first one is an excuse, and only a semi-legitimate one. The second one, that has partly to do with Los Angeles and partly to do with Orlando’s defense.

Looking at the box score, the 2-for-16 shooting from long range sticks out. The 39.3 percent shoooting overall from the field does too. Especially for a team that shoots 46.9 percent on the year and posts a 108.9 offensive efficiency, third in the league. Orlando slowed down a pretty adept Los Angeles offense Sunday afternoon.

Sunday’s offensive output was the worst the Lakers have had all season. That includes posting a 105.7 offensive efficiency at Boston on Thursday and the first time Los Angeles was held below 90 in offensive efficiency since a loss to the Spurs on Dec. 28. Los Angeles has famously had its struggles, but have definitely still been able to click along offensively.

How did Orlando hold down Los Angeles’ extremely potent offense?

The Lakers took 30 shots from between 10 and 23 feet, making just 11 according to the HoopData box score. More telling, Los Angeles 7 for 16 on shots less than 10 feet. Orlando, by comparison, was 4 for 8. The Magic were 11 for 23 between 10 and 23 feet. Three-pointers mattered in this game.

In the win over the Celtics, the Lakers were a similar 11 for 29 between 10 and 23 feet and were 6 for 13 within 10 feet. The big difference then between these two road games?

Dwight Howard certainly had something to say about that. His mere presence changes how teams attack the basket and attack on offense. Los Angeles’ field goal percentage at the rim dropped dramatically, even though they got the same attempts. The Lakers were 13 of 22 (59.1 percent) at the rim Sunday compared to 15 of 21 at the rim (71.5 percent) Thursday.

It is definitely a very subtle difference. Even with the Magic turning the ball over 16 times, Orlando found a way to get stops. It was from a much more concerted and increased effort for sure. Stan Van Gundy noted his players were tired coming to the bench and you could tell they were expending that energy.

Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu played their best defensive game perhaps since the trades. This was a great effort for Orlando against one of the better teams in the league. Again, copying that success is key to returning to the conversation of contenders.

The Magic cannot complain with the results Sunday.