Coming into the season, the Orlando Magic talked about how they intended to improve their defense; they wanted to be a team that could rely on D to be able to win games. With 29 games in the books, the Magic have proven that they can get after it and get stops on a consistent basis. They've also shown they can disappear and not get many stops at all throughout the night, which was the case against the Utah Jazz on Friday in a 101-94 defeat.
From the start, Utah was able to pick apart the Magic's defense, finding holes to get easy bucket after easy bucket. The Jazz shot a scorching 14-of-20 from the field, including 7-of-8 in the paint, in the first quarter. Those kinds of percentages are inexcusable, no matter how good, or bad, your defense is on a night-to-night basis.
After the game, coach Jacque Vaughn talked about how his team needed to tighten up their play on the perimeter to try to eliminate the easy buckets teams are seemingly getting every night. Vaughn said to give the Jazz credit for breaking his team down and making their shots.
"It was good in spurts," said Vaughn of his team's defense. "I think you saw an activity level in the fourth quarter, probably the seven minute mark, somewhere around there, where we were extremely active; [forcing a] five-second count, [making] multiple efforts, and that's what we have to learn how to play from beginning to end."
Evan Fournier was clearly not happy with how his team performed on the night. He talked about the team's lack of energy and how it's "not hard to play with energy." Fournier also said that if the team doesn't come and play with energy on Sunday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, they "are gonna kick our ass."
For a team that becomes so stagnant on the offensive end for stretches throughout almost every game, the Magic need to be able to rely some on the defense. If they continue to play like they have over their last three outings, however, they won't be seeing many victories coming their way. While some of it might be fatigue from playing the most games in the league (29) and the most rod games (19), it comes down to keeping their energy up, and not becoming lackadaisical on that end of the floor.
Payton's career night
Elfrid Payton had one of the best nights of his 29-game career Friday, despite the loss. Payton was the catalyst for the team's surge in the fourth quarter, and was one of, if not the, best player for the Magic on the night. Payton notched his first double-double, finishing with 11 points and an early career-high 11 assists.
Payton really helped the Magic to find good flow to their offense, and get some good shots on the offensive end. He's a guy that just makes his teammates better, even if he is a bit limited with his offensive game. Payton's energy can get his team going, even when it may be at a total low point, and that was the case on Friday night.
Coach Vaughn said to give Payton credit. "I think when he comes into the game, he is really trying to change the pace of the game and just the overall aggressiveness of the game," said Vaughn. "He's going to make mistakes, he is a rookie, but his ability to listen and respond and keep playing forward is a good sign. I think overall he is just continuing to put himself into positions where he is finding success."
It's another good building block for Payton, and hopefully one that can help him find a good rhythm on both ends of the floor. The team is able to get into their offense a lot easier and cleaner, and, in general, get better looks. It should be only a matter of time until's he's back into the starting lineup, which could give the Magic a better energy level at the start of the game.