Orlando Magic can’t seem to put their defense all together

The Orlando Magic have struggled to build defensive consistency as they fell to the Dallas Mavericks. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic have struggled to build defensive consistency as they fell to the Dallas Mavericks. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Final. 130. 79. 124. 38

The last three opponents the Orlando Magic faced are among the best offensive teams in the league.

The Brooklyn Nets are an offensive juggernaut with three superstar players who use that individual brilliance to snap defenses in half. They have enough shooters to spread the floor and force defenses to pick their poison. They have the top offense in the league and blasted the Magic for 129 points.

The Utah Jazz were next on the list. The juggernaut team that has taken the league by storm with their balanced offense, passing and quick 3-point shooting, The Jazz rank third in the league in offensive rating and they proceeded to attack the paint and the offensive glass for another 124 points.

The Dallas Mavericks last year had the best offense in league history by offensive rating. Luka Doncic can literally do anything with the basketball it seems. And their 5-out style twists and tears teams apart. Doncic nearly had a triple-double as Dallas made 17 3-pointers in a 130-124 win over Orlando on Monday.

Three straight games where the Magic’s defense gave up more than 120 points, the second time that has happened this season. And each time because of some different problem.

The Orlando Magic want to build their team on defense. But so far this season, it has been inconsistent and they cannot pin down one thing to build from consistently.

Orlando has prided itself on its defense the last two seasons under Steve Clifford. To call it inconsistent this year is an understatement — and the team’s especially poor offense has something to do with it too. But even when things seem to be getting right, the Magic’s defense just continues to confound the team.

Even on a night when the Magic finally broke through with one of their best offensive performances of the season, they were searching back to their defense — their bedrock — for answers.

"“I just thought too many mistakes on the defensive end of the floor,” Clifford said after Monday’s game. “Offensively, we were fine and good enough to win. Particularly in the first half, our side pick and roll which is typically a strength, just spread out all over the place. They are a big part of it. The Porzingis flares are a big issue. We spent the whole morning on it, we should have done better.”"

The Magic rank 20th in the league in defensive rating now, giving up 112.6 points per 100 possessions. In their last 10 games, they showed signs of progress, giving up 111.4 points per 100 possessions. But the quality of these opponents certainly had something to do with it.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

What likely drives Clifford and this team mad with their defense is how it is something new that arises each time. And when the Magic correct one problem, two more seem to pop up.

In Thursday’s loss to the Nets, the Magic blamed turnovers for the defeat. Orlando had 18 turnovers leading to 24 Brooklyn points. It turned an encouraging first quarter into an embarrassing blowout loss. The team could not give away free possessions to a team with that kind of firepower.

The team vowed to be better Saturday against the Jazz. And they were, committing only three turnovers in the game. They did not give the Jazz any free points.

But Utah still carved up Orlando’s defense. The Jazz scored 24 points off 10 offensive rebounds and got to the line for 24 free throws (making 17).

Clifford pointed to these two things for the Magic’s defeat in that game, two things the Magic are typically very good at — they are second in the league in defensive rebound rate (77.2-percent) and sixth in the league in opponent free throw rate (21.6-percent).

The Magic were decent at correcting these problems Monday. The Mavericks scored only 13 second-chance points on seven offensive rebounds (which included a thunderous dunk from Kristaps Porzingis in the third quarter) and a 25.6-percent free throw rate on 23 free throws.

The problem this time was something almost completely different than the other two games.

"“It’s always the little things almost,” Nikola Vucevic said after Monday’s loss. “Rarely it’s just one big thing you can look and we didn’t do this. Most of the time, it is the little things you don’t do successfully over the course of the game. Tonight, defensively we didn’t do a good job consistently, especially in the second half. Luka had a great game and he made some very tough shots. I think we weren’t locked in enough defensively to take away the strengths we worked on before the game.”"

These are the typical problems of a team struggling to win at any level in the league. They solve one problem and a few more arise. They never can pin everything down and reach the consistency necessary to succeed in the regular season.

The regular season is very much about leaning on something every night and knowing that it will always be there even on your worst nights.

The Magic had that in their defense for much of the last two seasons. But now, the Magic’s defense is not delivering. Even things the team has typically relied upon have seemingly been inconsistent.

"“You’ve got to be great with your base,” Clifford said after Monday’s loss. “Then you play a team like them with great offensive firepower and a superstar out there, you have to change things up. For the most part, when we did what we were supposed to do, we gave ourselves a chance. When we didn’t, that’s when the open threes came.”"

Certainly, the team’s injuries and the shortened training camp have affected that. But the team should be experienced enough to dive right back in.

At the midpoint of the season, the Magic should have enough defensive reps to look more organized defensively. They should be able to lock in and do the basic things that are clear to their identity.

Right now none of that is happening. Even things the Magic are good at statistically seem to betray them. It is something new every night. And the magic cannot seem to hone in one thing without losing focus on something else.

These are all tied together.

What it will take for Orlando Magic to make a move. dark. Next

For the Magic to experience any success in the short- or long-term, it has to grow from their defense. And right now, the team is struggling to put it all together. Especially against the elite teams of this league.