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Defense fails Magic in season opener

The Magic’s defense was off all night, ultimately costing them against the Heat.

NBA: Miami Heat at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Being a top defensive team is something the Orlando Magic have yearned for over the past few seasons. Heading into the season with their third different coach in a season and a half, this time with one of the best defensive coaches in the league, the hope was to finally build that elusive top-level defense.

Throughout the preseason, the team showed signs of a foundation of a strong defense, with new arrivals Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo anchoring the unit. With Biyombo out on opening night due to a one game league suspension —Biyombo accumulated to many flagrant foul points in last years playoffs— the team was left with a gaping hole in the middle off the bench.

That hole appeared to grow bigger and bigger with every Miami Heat drive on Wednesday night.

When the dust had finally settled, the damage was done, and it was major. The undersized, and shorthanded Heat pounded the Magic inside, scoring 74 of their 108 points in the painted area.

Playing four smalls for the majority of the night, the Heat continuously got downhill, finding holes in the Magic’s defense, aiding their strong attack. The Magic, still growing as a unit and finding their way, were seemingly always a step slow with their rotations, giving the Heat good look after good look.

Add in the struggle the Magic had boxing out — Miami had 16 offensive rebounds on the night, leading to 23 second chance points — and the picture got even bloodier for the Magic.

Needless to say, the Magic were not where they wanted to be on the defensive end all night, which ultimately cost them, despite the offenses’ struggles.

Magic coach Frank Vogel talked about how, without Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the picture, the Heat are now trying to take advantage of having smaller guys by being a hard driving team. While containing that was one of the biggest issues the team had all night, Vogel thought his team did better than they did just over a week ago against the Heat in Miami.

“I thought, from a containment standpoint, we did a little bit better than last time we played them,” said the Magic’s first year man. “Part of that 74 points in the paint is 23 second chance points, and 15 fastbreak points.”

From the start, the Magic seemed a step slow on the defensive side of the ball. The Heat were getting seemingly anything they wanted, with shots just not always falling. Add in the fact the Magic’s offense was churning at a smoother pace, partially due to some strong work on the offensive glass, and the Magic’s halftime lead wasn’t all that surprising.

When the energy level dropped, and the Heat picked up the pace, the wheels completely fell off.

With a higher energy level out of halftime, the Heat raced out to a 30 point third quarter, 18 of which came in the paint, with 13 of those coming off of second chance opportunities.

“They picked up their intensity and we didn’t execute,” said Vogel of the third quarter.

Nikola Vucevic, who had his hands full with Heat anchor Hassan Whiteside all night, thought the team played “selfish” in the third quarter, adding that they took bad shots as the team kept going at Whiteside. “We talked about it in shoot around. We said don’t go at him [Whiteside] make the jump stop and make the extra pass. We didn’t do that. He kept blocking it and they kept getting easy fastbreak points.”

Those fastbreak opportunities are what Vucevic’s pinned as one of the biggest reasons the Heat were able to score 74 points in the paint on the night.

“Really that’s what happens when we take bad shots and the ball goes the other way,” said the sixth-year man. “It’s hard to stop those and then we had a lot of defensive mistakes, a lot of easy drives and us bigs weren’t there on time [with help]. Collectively, I don’t think we did a good job defensively enough to where we’re consistently helping.”

Vucevic, who had his struggles of his own, wrapped it all up in a nutshell. The team’s issues on the defensive end were too plentiful, ultimately costing them on the night.

Despite the poor performance, the Magic still have a clear chance of becoming a top-level defense. They’ll get Biyombo back on Friday night in Detroit, and as the team continues to learn each other and get continuity, they’ll be able to find the keys to success on that end.

Nevertheless, the defensive issues loomed large on opening night, costing the Magic against their rival Heat.