The Orlando Magic hoped to build a defensive team for the regular season. The team has had plenty of hiccups on that end especially in the preseason.
Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, there were moments during the Orlando Magic’s 107-77 loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday where the team played decently on defense. Many of them may have come early in the game but those moments were there.
Serge Ibaka rotated over to block an underhanded layup attempt. The Magic worked together to get a shot-clock violation as they came back in the second quarter. There were pockets of energy.
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As Serge Ibaka described it though, most of the game the team was soft. Unable to corral dribble penetration, sucked into the lane and unable to get back out to the 3-point line to defend the arc. It was not a good defensive performance from the Magic at all.
And the defense in general has not produced numbers at the rate surely Frank Vogel would want.
The defense, like so much for the Magic is a work in progress.
“I think we are stronger with our front line right now and rim protection, our defensive presence in the paint than we are on the perimeter,” Frank Vogel said. “I am asking our perimeter guys to improve on their containment and stay with guys chasing off screens and those type of things.”
There was no doubt the Magic would have a strong interior defense. That seemed almost guaranteed with the acquisition of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo this offseason. They are two of the best rim protectors in the entire league.
The rest of the defense though has been a bit shaky. The Magic have a 106.4 defensive rating in the preseason, the second worst in the league. It is preseason so perhaps those stats are meaningless. In all likelihood they are with the talent the team has.
Undoubtedly though, beginning to turn the tide defensively comes from the perimeter players doing a better job.
Vogel said there is a difference in the scheme the Magic are running this year compared to the schemes they ran under Scott Skiles last year.
The bigs though are cleaning up perhaps a lot more mess than they should within what the Magic are trying to do defensively.
“I think we have some up and downs,” Nikola Vucevic said. “We showed some good things we can do. Obviously we have a lot of work to do. A lot of it is the chemistry, learning to trust each other. I think our defense has been pretty OK. We’ve had some good games where we show what we can do. I think with time once we get comfortable with each other and trust each other more and we learn each other’s tendencies, I think that it can be what we do that we can defend every night.”
Those create some stellar moments for sure. But it has been a lot of ups and downs for the Magic this preseason.
Thursday’s preseason finale against the New Orleans Pelicans may very well reveal a lot about the team. Vogel said he intends to run his rotation as if it were a regular season game. Even if the Pelicans back off and sit their starters — Anthony Davis will play — Vogel plans to play his rotation throughout the entire game. It will give the Magic a clearer look at how the team will operate and run through the early part of the season.
If there is to be a clue to how the Magic will work this season, it will come in Thursday’s game.
The Magic have had to overcome a lot in the preseason. Injuries to three starters at the beginning of camp put the team well behind the 8-ball in many ways.
Aaron Gordon will play Thursday but his ankle injury still clearly limits what he can do. It has taken longer for him to recover than anticipated. Ibaka has looked better and better, but admitted Wednesday he is still not quite 100 percent.
The injuries have played a role as the Magic try to catch up and learn a new system. Vogel said those players — along with Elfrid Payton — are still behind in what the Magic want to do and in building chemistry and developing a rhythm.
“Every coach is dealing with some level of that,” Vogel said. “It’s not something that should inhibit us. Would we be stronger if they were there from the start? Absolutely. It’s not going to inhibit us from winning games early.”
The Magic can ease a lot of minds with a strong effort and performance in this preseason finale and dress rehearsal for the season.
The defense will continue to evolve and continue to improve as they get more experience. But clearly the Magic still have work to do to get to where they want to be. And pretty soon, mistakes will come with a big cost.