Orlando Magic’s defense continues to struggle

The Orlando Magic have been a great team on the defensive end this season. But they are struggling in the last four games. The Denver Nuggets took advantage of that Saturday.





Defense was a big part of what Rob Hennigan and the Orlando Magic’s focus was this season. They felt like holding teams to less than 100 points on a nightly basis can help them steer to their first postseason in the last five years.

The Magic were on a tough schedule on the second night of a back-to-back — not to mention the fourth game in five nights and eighth game in 12 days. The schedule has had a big negative impact on the Magic as they have often, at times, looked worn out.

And the Denver Nuggets took it to a tired Magic defense in a 121-113 win at Amway Center on Saturday. Even with all the fatigue and other factors working against them, this is not how the Magic’s defense is ever supposed to play. The last four games have seen some significant slipping defensively.

“It was just too easy for them tonight,” Aaron Gordon said. “You know they were comfortable throughout the entire game. And we didn’t do anything to take them out of their rhythm offensively and it just wasn’t enough.”

The Magic’s defense on the perimeter was no better. The Nuggets connected on 8 of their 19 three-point attempts — rookie Juancho Hernangomez had four in the first half. The Magic were often too slow to switch on the screens as they suffered a barrage of three-pointers due to the late switches on defense.

Jameer Nelson was a big part of what Denver did offensively as he drove down the middle and drew the attention of the Magic big men, which resulted in an ample amount of shots for others.

It was a continuous pattern. The Nuggets posted a 124.7 offensive rating. This became the fourth consecutive game where the Magic gave up 100 or more points, the longest such streak since the beginning of the season.

And Denver dominated in every way.

“I mean, definitely our defense has taken a step back,” D.J. Augustin said. “But I don’t know if it’s because of the offense. I just know we have to do a better job. We all have to do our jobs and communicate on the floor and help each other on defense. We can turn things around.”

The Magic gave up an offensive rebound on nearly one-fourth of every Nuggets miss. The experiment of playing Stephen Zimmerman alongside Jeff Green in the front court was not an ideal scenario for the Magic — certainly a product of Nikola Vucevic‘s absence. Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic outmatched Stephen Zimmerman as they muscled their way into the paint and hoisted up a minimally contested layup.

The Magic’s defense often was too late to react when the Nuggets made short low-post passes to their big men. They were a step slow on the drives. And even when the Nuggets missed, they got nine offensive rebounds which resulted in 17 second-chance points.

The most alarming statistic of the night was the eye-popping 64 points in the paint the Magic gave up. This was the second most the Magic have surrendered in the paint this season, second to the opening night matchup versus the Miami Heat.

The Magic big men oftentimes did not contest the Nuggets shots in the paint. The Nuggets shot 32 out of 51 in the paint tonight (62.7%). That is a high number considering the Magic have what it takes to defend down low.

Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo were ineffective in the first half as they only had one block combined in the first half.

And the defensive performance Saturday, just like the last three nights, was reminiscent of those difficult early days.

Right from the start of the game, Nurkic pounded the ball inside and had a few low post hooks over the defensive specialists, Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo. That set the tone for the Denver Nuggets for the rest of the night.

The Orlando Magic crawled their way to their first lead of the night in the third quarter with about five minutes to go. They were locked in defensively which gave them a few opportunities to score in transition, which the Magic excel at.

The Magic’s very lethargic and lazy effort resulted in a loss, which was expected due to the beating they took down low.

Orlando certainly has some concern with how this difficult stretch ended. The Magic’s strongest area of their game has been poor the last four games. The Magic are not a team that can expect their offense to power through and get them wins.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” Biyombo said. “But at the same time we have to figure this out. It’s been kind of rough the last three games. But, in the end, I think this is a good process for some of our young guys so that we can all understand what it takes to really win a game”

Philip Rossman-Reich contributed to this report.

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