Orlando Magic continue to find no response to poor defense

Apr 8, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young (21) takes a shot in the second quarter as Orlando Magic forward Terrence Ross (31) defends at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young (21) takes a shot in the second quarter as Orlando Magic forward Terrence Ross (31) defends at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel did his best to challenge and cajole a better defensive effort from his team. Again, the Magic were found wanting.

38. 127. 100. Final. 112

It did not take long for Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel to get after his team in the third quarter.

Paul George had reeled off five straight points, continuing his offensive onslaught. It was not that George scored 37 points. That is bound to happen even when well contested. It was that it happened right after halftime with relative ease.

Right after a half where the Magic gave up 68 points and 60.9 percent shooting, including 18 assists on 28 field goals.

As Vogel certainly did at every timeout in the first half and at halftime itself, defense was the focus. Vogel said he challenged his team at every opportunity to step up their defense. It was their only way back in the game.

The challenge went unanswered in a 127-112 defeat at the Amway Center on Saturday.

"“It was a disappointing performance by our guys,” Vogel told Orlando Magic Daily. “We were terrible on the defensive end. They were challenged at every timeout and in every huddle and at halftime to raise their level. We never got them under control. Credit the Pacers for playing a great game.”"

There is no strategic move to make for the Magic if they are not rising to the challenge of a basic defense. Throughout Saturday’s game, the Indiana Pacers worked their way into the lane, breaking through the initial line of defense and forcing Nikola Vucevic to make a difficult decision. The help behind him was often late and Vucevic struggled to recover in time to affect shots.

It was a breakdown of all parts for the Magic.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Indiana finished shooting 59.3 percent for the game, making 11 of 22 3-pointers. Paul George finished with 37 points, seven rebounds and six assists and Myles Turner added 23 points and 10 rebounds. Jeff Teague added 13 assists as the Pacers finished with 35 assists on 51 makes.

Constantly, Indiana would break down Orlando’s perimeter defense and get into the lane, freeing up passes for dump downs underneath or kick outs to the 3-point line.

It was a constant attack the Magic could not repel.

"“It was a layup show,” Evan Fournier told Orlando Magic Daily. “It was layups after layups. We didn’t protect the paint at all. We weren’t aggressive enough on the ball and too many blow-bys. It was just a bad game overall.”"

Vogel would not elaborate on the specific strategy the team used that it struggled to execute so much. It appeared the Magic were trying to switch on just about every screen. It sometimes created some odd mismatches. The team did not respond to them well, often overhelping and leaving new holes open. The Magic were never on the same page using a defensive strategy that requires constant communication and precision.

Vogel said the team was “poor all the way across the board.” Often the team would be a hair late on some of these giving a player like George the space to attack right off the pick.

It was a consistent and constant problem throughout the game. And the Magic paid for it time and time again.

There was no chance to create a run once the Pacers began to pull away for good. Indiana was simply going to continue making shots.

This has been one of the most frustrating parts of this difficult season for the Magic. The team’s defense never seemed to take hold. And the Magic, built with defense in mind including hiring Vogel to begin with, have been one of the worst defenses in the league.

The team is 22nd in the league in defensive rating for the season overall, giving up 108.0 points per 100 possessions. Since the All-Star Break, the Magic are 24th, giving up 109.8 points per 100 possessions.

Orlando gave up 112.9 points per 100 possessions in Saturday’s loss to Indiana.

The problem of giving up points in the paint has been present since the beginning of the year too. That first loss to the Miami Heat when the Magic gave up 70-plus points in the paint seems more of an omen for the struggles that would follow.

Orlando gives up 46.5 points per game in the paint, 26th in the league. The defensive breakdowns have been a constant and consistent problem. Saturday’s breakdowns were not new. They were just frustratingly repetitive.

"“It is getting repetitive,” Evan Fournier told Orlando Magic Daily. “There is not much to say, really. We’ve got to fix it. We can’t keep saying the same things over and over. We’ve got to do it.”"

Perhaps the story of the season has been a recognition the team has to do something to fix its defense and its failure actually to do something about it.

Vogel challenged his team plenty in the loss Saturday to spur some action. Consistently, it fell on deaf ears. Either that or the team simply failed to execute.

That might be why the Magic are at 28-52 and tied for the fourth-worst record in the league, facing a summer where even players sense change is on the horizon.

All the team can do now is keep pushing themselves. That is all Vogel could answer when asked what more he can do. The team has clearly found a defensive identity — and that is as a very poor defensive team.

Next: Grades: Indiana Pacers 127, Orlando Magic 112

With two games left, it may send the Magic completely back to the drawing board again this summer.