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Even in third rebuilding year, Orlando Magic's defense continues to struggle

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Orlando has allowed 100-plus points in each of its last 13 games, the team's longest such streak in more than two decades.

Carmelo Anthony and Tobias Harris
Carmelo Anthony and Tobias Harris
Al Bello/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic finished January on an eight-game losing streak, bringing their record for the month to 2-13, the league's worst during that span. One key factor in their poor play: their defense, which has allowed 100-plus points in each of the team's last 13 games--including Monday's February opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder--the team's longest streak of such performances in 23 years, according to basketball-reference. And while we've long since stopped paying attention to raw, per-game numbers, a check of more reliable advanced metrics agrees: the Magic's defense has reached new lows.

According to NBA.com/stats, the Magic's defensive rating--a pace-adjusted stat which indicates the number of points a given team yields per 100 possessions--in January stood at 108.4, the second-worst figure in the league. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves, who own the NBA's worst record, defended less capably than did the Magic in January.

Here are some of the grisly facts: Magic foes shot 49.5 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from three-point range in January, the worst and second-worst marks in the league, respectively. Moreover, the Magic gave up 66.8 percent shooting in the restricted circle, 6.9 percent worse than the league average, says NBA.com/stats.

It gets worse. In January, the Magic sent their opponents to the foul line far too often, yielding .308 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt, the second-worst mark in the league. Sum it up and it's clear that the Magic simply aren't taking anything away from their opponents.

What's less clear is how Orlando can address the issue. The defensive shortcomings are so vast in scope and pervasive in number that adding a plus defender or two may not significantly reverse its fortunes. The Magic's shift to a faster paced offense suits their current personnel but also costs them defensively, given the difficulty of drilling for random transition defensive situations is. Players' bringing to the floor a defense-first mindset, instead of focusing on offense, as coach Jacque Vaughn suggested, could help matters, though it's fair to question just how much, given the paucity of raw defensive talent on the club.

The playoffs are no longer in the cards for Orlando. A more realistic and beneficial goal for which to aim as the season winds to a close is improving the defense, by any means necessary. Even rebuilding teams need to learn how to get stops, after all. Perhaps that conclusion's an obvious one to draw after two-plus seasons near the bottom of the league, but it bears repeating in light of current events.

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