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It speaks to the defensive mastery of Dwight Howard (and head coach Stan Van Gundy) that in the Van Gundy era, the Orlando Magic have ranked in the top five or better in Defensive Rating between 2008-2011. And considering the personnel on the roster last season, it’s a downright miracle that the Magic finished third in Defensive Rating.
So when you officially take Dwight out of the equation for the remainder of the season for Orlando, given that he underwent season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back, it should come as no surprise that the Magic can’t defend right now. It’s not for a lack of energy and effort, either. In fact, that’s something Van Gundy has praised about the players for Orlando.
But the reality is this — the Magic can’t prevent the other team from scoring. At all. Orlando’s game against the Utah Jazz was the latest example.
Strange as it seems, the Magic don’t (and won’t) have much trouble putting up points without Dwight. That’s because Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the NBA and can adjust on the fly.
To be specific, without Dwight, Orlando has all but abandoned post-ups. When you consider that the Magic don’t have any predominant low post players, it makes sense. Instead, Van Gundy has transformed Orlando’s offense into a pick-and-roll heavy attack. Reason being is that it allows the Magic to maintain ball movement, player movement, and spacing offensively. It’s beautiful to watch.
The Jazz got a heavy dose of the pick-and-roll pill from Orlando and could do little to counter its effects. Granted, Utah isn’t a good defensive team to begin with — ranked 23rd in Defensive Rating heading into Saturday’s game. That being said, it’s hard not to be impressed with how Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick ran pick-and-rolls with precision. For the most part, it’s what allowed the Magic to score 107 points without Dwight to anchor the offense.
The problem, of course, is that without Dwight to anchor the defense, Orlando could not stop Utah from scoring seemingly at will. Especially in the paint, where Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, and Paul Millsap overwhelmed the Magic with their size and skill. Credit head coach Tyrone Corbin, too, with really squeezing the Jazz’s size advantage to the bare limit by playing Millsap, Favors, and Jefferson many minutes together.
Jefferson — one of the most underrated post players in the league — did his damage primarily inside, using his footwork on the low block and feathery touch around the rim to get the job done. Millsap, when he wasn’t getting to the free-throw line, mostly hurt Orlando outside on the perimeter with his jumper. Favors? He just had his own layup drill and dunk-a-thon.
For as resilient as the Magic have been without Dwight, that resiliency hasn’t translated to many wins. If Orlando can’t find a way to put up more of a resistance on defense, that losing trend will continue.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Nelson was tremendous. He generally outplayed his counterpart, Devin Harris, though Harris exacted some revenge on Nelson, blocking his game-winning three-point attempt at the end of regulation and also coming up big in overtime.
Down 107-105 with less than two minutes to go in overtime, the Magic opted to double Jefferson in the post. That decision proved costly, as Jefferson’s kick-out pass eventually led to an open three-pointer for Gordon Hayward. Game.
It has to be Favors. He had a plus/minus of +21 for the game and that’s no fluke or coincidence. With him on the court, alongside Millsap and Jefferson, the Jazz were nearly unstoppable offensively.