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Magic vs. Rockets notebook: Orlando improves its defense

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The Magic have bought into the defensive end so far. Plus, Maurice Harkless is showing off new facets of his offensive game.

Maurice Harkless and James Harden
Maurice Harkless and James Harden
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Our man Zach Oliver empties the notebook following the Orlando Magic's 90-89 loss to the Houston Rockets in preseason action Wednesday.

Strong defensive play continues

Despite giving up 29 points in the fourth quarter, including 14 to Isaiah Canaan, the Magic's defense looked good once again on Wednesday night. From the start of training camp, coach Jacque Vaughn has said that the team would focus on that end of the floor, and through seven preseason games, it's paid dividends.

"I think overall, if you take each game and separately look at them, we have done a pretty good job understanding what to do defensively," said Vaughn. "I think again tonight they shoot under 40 [percent] from the field, and so I hope that becomes a common theme for us. It's a great place for us to look forward to each and every game."

Only three teams have shot better than 40 percent against the Magic this preseason.

Vaughn also talked about how having guys who are "defensive minded" has allowed his team to make much-needed improvements on that end of the floor. Rookie forward Aaron Gordon, who prides himself on his defense, said he thought they had done a "pretty good job" so far on that end of the floor in the preseason. Gordon also said that the veterans the team has might have a better feeling than he does due to their wealth of experience.

Only three teams -- the Charlotte Hornets, Flamengo and Philadelphia 76ers -- have shot better than 40 percent against the Magic this preseason. It's encouraging to see Orlando locking down and potentially taking that next step in that end of the floor. They have the players to potentially become one of the league's better defensive teams. To get there, they just have to put in the time and work, and so far, they have.

Harkless making waves

One of the Magic's potential defensive stoppers, Maurice Harkless, has shown off a new, refined offensive game this preseason, and continued to do so with a strong 11 point performance against the Rockets. Harkless, who previously relied heavily on the corner three and off-ball cuts to score, has shown a steady improvement with the ball in his hands, while also being able to create offense for himself and others. He looks poised to take the next step thanks to the new wrinkles in his game.

Against the Rockets, Harkless drew the tough assignment of checking James Harden and did a fairly good job containing the two-time All-Star. In 17 minutes, Harden finished with just nine points on 3-of-7 shooting, thanks in large part to Harkless' tenacity and length.

Coach Vaughn said he was "glad James played tonight to give Maurice a great defensive challenge."

"I think overall [I was] very happy with his focus on the defensive end of the floor," Vaughn said of Harkless.

Harkless is heading into a crucial season for his development. He skipped playing with the Puerto Rican national team this summer in favor of working on his game stateside, and his hard work has shown bright so far. His role with the team is somewhat unclear at this time, but when Harkless is on the floor, Orlando can rely on him to be a bigger threat offensively and to continue to lock players down defensively as well.

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