Orlando Magic have always had their defense to back them up

As the Orlando Magic head into the back half of their series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, they are leaning on the identity that got them there. Even in their worst moments, their defense was always there.
Even in their lowest moments, the Orlando Magic have always had their defense to back them up. It is what carried them into the Playoffs and back into this series.
Even in their lowest moments, the Orlando Magic have always had their defense to back them up. It is what carried them into the Playoffs and back into this series. / Jason Miller/GettyImages

Defense can be a fickle thing, especially in this modern offensive-minded NBA.

A player can get hot and make shots over a tough contest. The ball can swing to a poor shooter the team wants shooting and he hits shots.

Defenses cannot cover everything, all they can do is disrupt. The question, especially when it comes to a playoff series is: Just how much can they disrupt?

That has been the central question for the Magic throughout their Playoff series as they test themselves on this stage for the first time.

It has also been the defining characteristic for this team.

Even when the offense struggled in Games 1 and 2, the Magic's defense felt like it was good enough to win. The team knew that its defense was enough to carry the day.

That has been the most consistent thing in this four-game series so far. The Magic's defense has been a dominant force and the thing they have relied on all season long. When everything else goes wrong, the Magic's defense has been there.

And as the Orlando Magic prepare for Game 5 of their series with the Cleveland Cavaliers, their defense is the thing the team will lean on to carry them to a series victory.

"Knowing that it is our identity. We've said it from the beginning of the year we're going to hang our hat on the defensive end of the floor," coach Jamahl Mosley said after shootaround Tuesday. "Allowing our defense to get us easy offensive baskets. But then offensively, being able to continue to trust the pass, trust what we do well and know what we're capable of doing and what it has given us."

Everything for the Magic springs off its defense.

They ranked third in the league with a 110.8 defensive rating. They are long and rangy, able to force turnovers -- forcing a 15.4 percent turnover rate.

Orlando might be imperfect on defense with its penchant for fouling and even its tendency to give up 3-pointers to defend the paint, but teams have found it difficult to get past them anyway. They have found it difficult to crack the code unless they are shooting particularly well or can spread the floor out with five shooters to get bodies and arms out of the paint.

That strong defense has carried over into the Playoffs.

The team has yet to give up 100 points in a game -- which received a solid knock on wood from Mosley when he was told this before Game 5 -- during this series, becoming the first team to do that through four games in a Playoff series since the 2019 Toronto Raptors.

The Cavaliers are scoring just 96.8 points per 100 possessions against the Magic in this series. They have a 16.4 percent turnover rate. They are shooting an icy 47.9 percent effective field goal percentage.

"That's what we've prided ourselves on the whole year," Gary Harris said after shootaround Tuesday. "We're a defensive team. When we play our best basketball, we are locked in on the defensive end. In order for us to win, we have to do that tonight."

Still, it is defense in a league full of shot-makers. Everyone has to knock on wood on defense. Defensive success in the past is no guarantee for defensive success in the future. As good as any defense might be, they are still susceptible to hot-shooting nights.

Orlando had a rough defensive run late in the season giving up 110-plus points in four of the team's final six regular season games after not doing so since before the All-Star Break. It is easy for anything to get thrown off. And any team in the league can get hot -- one of the best defenses in the league gave up 120 points in a game 17 times this season.

And with this Magic team's offense, playing good defense is almost a requirement for winning -- the Magic were just 2-15 when they gave up more than 120 points.

Defense takes constant work. It takes constant attention and constant effort. The teams that commit to defense are typically the ones who win regularly in the regular season.

Defense is the team's security blanket. That has always been what the team relies on.

And with Orlando's offensive struggles, it has always been the thing the team knows it can rely on more often than not.

"Defense is all effort," Wendell Carter said after the Orlando Magic's win on March arch 30 over the Memphis Grizzlies. "Offensively, guys go through slumps. That is something you can't really change. But one thing you can always control is your effort on the defensive end. I think we've been doing a really good job of that from the beginning of the year.

"We told ourselves that was going to be our staple and our standard that we are going to make every tough shots, challenge every shot, shrink the court. That is something we put a lot of thought and effort into."

That has been the message from the beginning of the season. That has continued to be the message through the Playoffs.

Orlando needed its defense to step up and hold the ship steady as the offense got comfortable. It has largely done that.

If there has been one thing that has been encouraging in all four games of this series, it is that the team's defense has stood tall throughout the series. It has consistently done the things it did during the regular season.

And it has kept the team in games when the offense is not working. The defense has been that lifeline.

"Our defense has sustained us," Mosley said in late March. "But again, it's being able to hold the process and not worry about the results. But if you're doing the right things, you're playing the right way, it will bounce your way at some point. But you got to stay the course. And this group has continued to do that no matter what's going on."

That has been a repeated message throughout this series. Espeically after the team's struggles to shoot early in the season. Orlando has always liked the process it has gone through in this series.

That starts with the defense. That starts with the team's ability to get stops. It starts with how difficult they are to score on. That has been the thing that has built this team.

As Orlando prepares for Game 5, there are still things the team wants to improve on. That is the thing with defense, it is always looking for ways to improve. It can always tighten up. The Magic are always looking to get better.

And there is no more important time than now.

"I think we've got to do a better job even in this game of getting them inside the 3-point line, defending without fouling, understanding who we are closing out to and the timing we close out," Mosley said after shootaround Tuesday. "Those are all important factors that we've got to continue doing a great job impacting all of their shots."

The Magic have done their job against the Cavs. But they know how dangerous their offense remains. Cleveland has shot poorly, but like Orlando at home in Games 3 and 4, the shots might fall at home.

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If the Magic are going to win Game 5 and win this series, they know they will do it because of their defense. That is what got them here anyway.