Jamahl Mosley has ingrained defense into Orlando Magic's culture

The Orlando Magic are set to return to the Playoffs. And everyone knows why: Their defense has risen to elite level helping the team grow quickly and make their mark on the Eastern Conference.

Jamahl Mosley has gotten everyone on the Orlando Magic to believe in their defense. It is the central key to their success.
Jamahl Mosley has gotten everyone on the Orlando Magic to believe in their defense. It is the central key to their success. / Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

Cole Anthony entered the NBA without much of a defensive reputation.

He seemed like an odd fit with coach Steve Clifford and even an established team trying to make the playoffs. Anthony could score and was a scorer at heart, but his success would be determined on his commitment to defense.

Even in his rookie year, Anthony was always willing. The effort was always there.

The mess that was that season -- from Anthony's early season injury to the trades that upended the Magic's roster -- did little to help set Anthony on the right path even though eh got plenty of opportunity to establish himself in the league. He was a star on a team that was getting ready to reset.

Coach Jamahl Mosley's arrival in Orlando helped change a lot of things for the Magic as a franchise. He came to the training facility and immediately set a tone for what the Magic would be. They would be a defensive team. And even for a player who had to improve on that end, it was a message that worked for Anthony.

As the Magic continue their ascent -- and Mosley gets some consideration for the NBA's Coach of the Year Award -- the Magic have found their calling on defense. It is the biggest focus for the team as they stake their claim to a place in the Eastern Conference.

It is the central piece of their culture moving forward.

"Since day one, Mose has really tried to hold everyone here to a higher standard than what it was previously held to," Anthony said after practice Monday. "He told us from day one, we were going to be a defensive-minded team that beats teams with our defense. He has done a great job holding us to that standard and staying consistent with that since becoming the head coach of this team. He has come a long way as a coach, we have come a long way as players."

The Magic have hit their zenith this year.

In Mosley's first year as head coach, the Magic ranked 19th in defensive rating at 112.1 points allowed per 100 possessions despite a 22-win season. Last year, the Magic rose to 18th with a 113.7 defensive rating. But excluding the team's 5-20 start, Orlando ranked sixth in the league, giving up 113.0 points per 100 possessions.

That gave the team a lot of belief in what they were doing. And it has translated into a dominant defensive showing this year.

Orlando ranks third in the league this year, giving up 110.9 points per 100 possessions. They have been in the top six for most of the year.

As Erik Spoelstra put it in January, by the midpoint of the season a team is what it will be. And this team is a defensive juggernaut.

"I think for this group ultimately what it meant is you bring in the right personnel, guys that want and are willing to defend," Mosley said after practice Monday. "Not just from the mindset but are capable of doing it. Those who are not as capable, they understand the positioning, the timing and technique to do it the right way."

Jalen Suggs has launched into a potential All-Defensive team player. Jonathan Isaac is chasing down blocks and plays. Wendell Carter has been solid as a paint backstop. Franz Wagner has been an underrated and strong as a defender too.

But the defense has also been successful because even players like Anthony have worked to improve on defense. They have taken strides and found a way to contribute on the defensive end.

The Magic still have a 109.9 defensive rating with Anthony on the floor, that is right at the team's average. He averages 1.4 steals per 75 possessions, ranking in the 84th percentile in the league. He even averages 2.66 deflections per 75 possessions, ranking in the 74th percentile.

He has a positive D-LEBRON, which is certainly boosted by him playing with a defender like Jonathan Isaac and the Magic's overall strong defensive unit. But these numbers also suggest Anthony does his part defensively within the group.

Anthony might still be someone teams try to target. But he does not back down. That is a big part of the Magic's overall defensive philosophy. They can teach technique, but they demand effort.

That is a credit to the Magic's coaching staff and the culture Mosley has helped establish. This is the heart of what makes the Magic's defense so special.

"[Mosley] does a great job staying consistent with us and not allowing us to take possessions off," Anthony said after practice Monday. "Trying to ensure that we give 110 percent every time we step on that floor whether it's here in practice or whether it's in the game. Trying to get the most out of us. He does a good job of that."

Orlando has an issue with its offense still. That is what is holding it back from being a title contender at this early stage.

The Magic rank 21st in the league in offensive rating once again at 113.0 points per 100 possessions. Orlando has not been outside the bottom 10 in the league in offensive rating since Dwight Howard's departure. This is one area the Magic have not yet risen past that era -- although Orlando has been much better on offense since the All-Star Break.

The team's defense has to carry the day. And a game like Saturday was a sign of the team's maturity to compete even with the offense struggling.

The Magic made only 10 of 35 3-pointers, yet another game shooting worse than 30 percent from three. But despite those difficulties, the Magic stayed fairly consistent defensively. They went five minutes in the third quarter without scoring, but the defense kept the deficit manageable until the shots started to fall.

It was a close game the rest of the way with the Magic's defense making some big plays (and, yes, making some mistakes) to keep the Magic in the game. That is part of the team's maturity too.

"There are so many little things within it," Mosley said after practice Monday. "The idea that we didn't make shots in this game but we were able to hold it down defensively. It taught us about the poise we need to have in games whether we are getting calls or not getting class. That we have to stay the course no matter what is happening within the game. Those little small pieces that our defense is going to carry us any given night whether we are making shots or not."

This is the essence of the Magic's approach. Their defense is the key to everything they do. They understand that internally now. It has been the key to their success.

It is the biggest thing Mosley has brought.

Orlando will see what translates to the Playoffs and how everything will work in the postseason. The Magic know their defense is going to be the key to their success.

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It is the central part of their culture for everyone.