Orlando Magic Playbook: Orlando Magic trying to get their defensive mentality back

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Michael Carter-Williams, Orlando Magic
Michael Carter-Williams had his offensive struggles this weekend in the Orlando Magic’s preseason openers. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic know their defense has to be the base for their success this season. So far, they have struggled to reel their defense in through the preseason.

If there is something that can be said about the entire Orlando Magic roster, it is that they are generally nice guys. They are competitive and they are trying to win. But they are not full of boisterous players. They want to put their nose to the grindstone and work hard, hoping the sum is greater than the individual parts.

Everything for this team takes effort and focus. And everyone recognizes without doing basic principle things, the whole project will fall apart.

The Magic needed someone to get them to realize how to put all the pieces together. And after six years in the bottom 10 of both offense and defense, coach Steve Clifford helped transform the team’s defense and give this team something resembling an identity.

Orlando finished in the top 10 in defensive rating in the 2019 season, riding that to the postseason. The Magic had their way to play.

And they largely committed to that defensive identity in 2020. Until the end of the season when they saw considerable slips. They finished tied for 10th in defensive rating in the 2020 season. And it seemed like they left something on the table on what should have been their greatest calling card.

True, two of the team’s better defenders were not able to play much of the season — Al-Farouq Aminu was lost for the season in December and Jonathan Isaac went down in January. But the slippage on defense was concerning.

So concerning that it has spilled over into this year’s prep work. The Magic have not strung together much that is encouraging defensively in three preseason games. And there is little time to show they have it right before the season begins.

The Magic are not going to go anywhere without their defense. And more importantly, they have to know, believe and act like they are the strong defensive team they have established themselves as.

"“I think as much as anything, it was our mentality,” Clifford said after practice Friday. “There are things you have to be realistic as a coach, we’re not going to be as organized at the beginning of the year. Neither is anyone else. We have played well defensively when we have the right attitude. Guys can’t take defense for granted. And on the other hand, I think sometimes guys don’t have enough ego about how good a defensive team we are capable of being.”"

Clifford said the team has to get back to playing “Magic defense.” At this point, the Magic are not close to being good enough defensively.