What Happened To the Defense?
Since Stan Van Gundy’s arrival in 2007, the Orlando Magic have ranked among the league’s elite defensive teams. The Magic finished 11th in defensive efficiency in the 2007-08 season, Van Gundy’s first. During the 2008-09 season, the year Orlando reached the NBA finals, the Magic were first in defensive efficiency. They finished second the following season and third last season. This year, the Magic are just 12th in defensive efficiency.
“This defense will not cut it,” Van Gundy said following Orlando’s loss to the Detroit Pistons Tuesday night.
The Pistons scored 102 points and shot 56.6% from the field. Orlando’s defensive problems have been exposed more than ever as of late – they have a defensive rating of 115.9 over their last five games.
“We don’t guard,” Van Gundy explained.
Despite what most pundits think, the Magic have been built around the defensive prowess of Dwight Howard.
However, this team is different. The Magic used to have better defenders like Mickael Pietrus, a younger Hedo Turkoglu and to a lesser extent, Matt Barnes. Orlando’s best defensive wing now, Quentin Richardson, will be 32 in just over a week and simply can’t be asked to defend like the aforementioned players could.
Players like Earl Clark have shown potential but there is no player who the Magic can assign to guard the elite wings of the league – players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, etc… – night in and night out. Obviously, there isn’t a player who can consistently guard players of that caliber, but the Magic used to at least be able to assign the likes of Pietrus and Barnes to those types of players.
Orlando currently ranks just 16th in offensive efficiency, also an all-time low for a Van Gundy coached Magic team, has picked it up recently, but obviously that hasn’t been enough – the Magic have lost four straight games.
“You’re never going to win games if you think you’re going to outscore people,” J.J. Redick explained.
Obviously, the absence of Dwight Howard, the league’s best defensive player, over the last two games has had a big impact on Orlando’s defense, but their problems have occurred throughout the entire season.
“When you’ve got the three-time league Defensive Player of the Year not in, everybody has to take it upon themselves to take their matchup personally and don’t let your man score,” Glen Davis explained. “But at the same time, we have to be a defensive-oriented team, to be there for the next guy.”
After the Magic were defeated by the Nuggets Sunday night, Van Gundy gave a stern warning.
“We’ve got to get a lot better defensively or in four weeks we’re not going to be able to get it done.”
Glen Davis Embracing His Role
Although Glen Davis has averaged 24.5 points and 13.0 rebounds over the last two games, including a career-high 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, while filling in for center Dwight Howard, he is in the middle of the worst season of his career.
Davis is averaging 8.2 points per game and is shooting just 39.5% from the field.
Davis came to Orlando expecting to be a starter and to log heavy minutes, but instead, he has been the backup at both to the Four and the Five to Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard. He’s playing just 21.7 minutes per game after playing 29.5 minutes per game last season.
“When I first came here, I didn’t think my role was going to be the role I have now,” Davis explained. “I thought it was going to be bigger.”
Davis was initially upset with his playing time, but has changed his approach and has decided to listen to head coach Stan Van Gundy and accept whatever directions are given to him.
“My role wasn’t bigger,” Davis said. “So when I get out of myself and understanding what my role is for the team, I can see that I get into a better rhythm.”
Davis, who has played much better lately, says his recent play shouldn’t come as any surprise.
“You forget where I came from and what I’ve done,” Davis told reporters. “I’ve played this game at a high level, been part of great teams and have done great things.”
“So it’s about a comfort zone.”
If Orlando’s going to have any sustained success in the postseason, Davis is going to have to be in that comfort zone.
(Andrew Melnick is the ESPNFlorida.com Magic and NBA Insider, co-host of the ESPN 1080 Insiders Show and publisher of Howard the Dunk. The Insiders Show can be heard Sunday mornings at 10:00 am EST on AM 1080 in Orlando and on ESPNFlorida.com. You can follow Andrew on twitter here.)