5 questions the Orlando Magic face in the second quarter of the 2021 season

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Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic
The Dallas Mavericks broke the Orlando Magic’s pick and roll defense to get open threes. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Can the Orlando Magic rebuild their defense?

The Orlando Magic know at their very core they have to defend at a better level. Plain and simple.

This is who the team is supposed to be. That kind of gritty, committed defense is what lifted the team from Eastern Conference cellar-dweller to playoff team. At the Magic’s very core, this is who the Magic have to be to find success.

Nobody on this Magic team is considered a high-level defender outside of Aaron Gordon (and Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu when they are healthy). This group became a top-10 defense out of sheer force of will and game planning.

This is very much what a Steve Clifford team is. They play above their station because of a commitment to the details and a specific way to play. It is simple and beautiful.

Defense, largely on its own, can make a team competitive — last year, no team in the top eight in defensive rating had a record worse than .500 and only one team in the top 11 missed the playoffs.

That was part of Clifford’s project when he stepped in. The Magic had to be good defensively.

That is who they are.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That is not who they have been this year. Even before Markelle Fultz’s injury.

In the first quarter of the season, the Magic ranked 19th in the league with a 110.1 defensive rating. There were some bright spots throughout the season, but nothing that lasted. The inconsistency has been the thing that has been maddening.

Perhaps that is part of what is so frustrating. They know how good they can be defensively and it is not about effort, but merely execution and detail. These are supposed to be the things the Magic are great at.

This season has challenged Clifford a ton without a doubt. He would undoubtedly love another week of training camp to pin down these details and drill the team’s offense and defense. He would probably wish for three straight days off and a normal schedule to get real practice in.

He has been unable to reel the team’s defense in. He and the Magic were betting on familiarity and continuity to shrink this learning curve and build these habits without practice.

The team has to do its work too. Even through all the injuries. But the Magic are not turning their season around without their defense. It is central to everything that they do.

Without it, this is one of the worst teams in the league.