Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images
When it comes to examining the Orlando Magic’s flaws under a microscope, most of the focus usually centers around the roster lacking a consistent and dynamic shot creator on the perimeter.
Other roster issues including the following: the bench is bad outside of J.J. Redick, three starters (Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu) aren’t having good seasons, and Dwight Howard has been more ordinary than “Superman” this season.
But if there’s one glaring flaw that may undermine the Magic’s season the most, it’s their defense. Both team and individually.
Yes, Orlando’s offense experiences extreme highs and lows and that’s also a problem. But the Magic’s fall defensively from elite (ranked fifth or better from 2008-2011) to very good is the bigger issue. In years past, when Orlando’s offense hit a dead zone, they could fall back on their defense to win games. This season? Not so much. When the Magic’s offense dies, their hopes of winning games die with it.
Orlando’s loss at the hands of the New York Knicks was the latest example.
In the first quarter, the Magic were fine. Even though Orlando defensively was struggling to contain Carmelo Anthony, on the flipside, Nelson and his aggressiveness on offense in pick-and-rolls made it a moot point. Heading into the second quarter, the Magic were up 29-25.
Then all hell broke loose.
Orlando’s second unit came in. The offense died. The Magic couldn’t fall back on their defense. Orlando’s reserves held on for dear life before the starters finally came back into the game. When it was all said and done, the Magic’s starting unit made the situation even worse on both ends of the floor and the Knicks proceeded to blow Orlando out by 22.
New York won this game because of Anthony and Steve Novak (seriously). The Magic had no one to defend either player.
Anthony did whatever he wanted wherever he wanted on the court. When he was single-covered, he scored. When he was double-teamed, he kicked the ball out to the perimeter and there were plenty of open looks to go around for his teammates, either right away when Anthony passed them the basketball or after a few seconds when Orlando’s defense was forced to rotate.
As for Novak, Orlando now knows what other teams in the NBA have to deal with when defending a stretch four in the mold of Anderson. The Magic had no one that accounted for Novak on the perimeter when the Knicks’ ball-handlers dribble penetrated for drive-and-kicks. No one. Glen Davis tried and failed. Hedo Turkoglu tried and failed.
Maybe Anderson could have fared better but who knows.
All that is certain is that Orlando’s defense is a mess. Dribble penetration can’t be contained. A big, strong wing defender (like Mickael Pietrus of yesteryear) that can contribute on offense doesn’t exist. And Dwight isn’t playing at the same level defensively this season as he has in previous seasons.
In other words, this isn’t 2009.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
With Amar’e Stoudemire out (bulging disk in back), Anthony started at power forward, which serendipitously benefitted the Knicks. There was no one on the Magic’s roster that could defend Anthony (25 points on 9-for-15 shooting from the floor).
Despite leading 29-25 after the first quarter, Orlando was blown into smithereens by New York. The Knicks outscored the Magic by 20 in the second quarter and proceeded to turn a close game into a laugher.
That Was … Ruthless
Head coach Mike Woodson put the ball in Anthony’s hands and let him single-handedly destroy Orlando’s defense. New York was most effective offensively when Anthony planted himself in the post to create for himself or others.