After posting one of the best defensive ratings through the month of November, the Orlando Magic have been in a prolonged tailspin defensively. After giving up just 92 points to the Detroit Pistons on December 4th, their third win on an impressive 4-1 road trip, the Magic defense has crumbled, giving up over 100 points in 15 of their last 16 games, including 110 or more in nine of those contests.
Wednesday night against the Hawks was no different, with the Magic struggling to find consistent energy on the defensive end from the opening tap. The Hawks used strong dribble penetration early to break down the Magic defense to the tune of 16 points in the paint in the opening quarter.
That strong quarter getting to the basket opened up passing lanes as the game wore on, allowing the Hawks to find open shooters seemingly all night. When the dust settled the Hawks had finished the night with 10 three-pointers, and dished out 27 assists on 44 made field goals.
“Well, give the Hawks credit, they really executed on the offensive end,” said Magic coach Frank Vogel when asked about his teams defense. “I think in general they were too comfortable. We didn’t extend enough, we didn’t pressure enough, we didn’t protect the rim enough. Just out disposition wasn’t good enough in general.”
On the night, the Hawks shot a blistering 54.3 percent from the field, and seemed to never even feel the pressure from the Magic defense. Orlando’s rotations were consistently a step slow, allowing the Hawks clean looks from all over the floor.
After finishing the second half strong defensively against the New York Knicks on Monday night, laying another egg is disheartening for a Magic bunch that’s longing for success on the defensive end.
“Mostly penetration, pick-and-pop game, inside out game, transition, they got them in a lot of different ways,” said Vogel. “You let a team get comfortable early in the game, sometimes you can get ahold of it like we did in New York, and sometimes teams just start feeling good and they’re hitting even tough shots.”
For a team that has aspirations of being a top level defense, and one that’s shown the ability to do so throughout the season, the Magic’s prolonged slippage is both disheartening, and concerning. When they seem to find something on that end and get going again, it’s pulled right out from under them the next night.
Consistency has been one of the biggest things that’s plagued the Magic this season, and it’s most profound on the defensive end. If they can’t figure things out, and fast, the wheels could fall off the bus. With seven of their next nine games against teams ranked in the top-11 in offensive rating — including three in the top-6 — the Magic are going to have to figure things out on that end and fast.
After missing five games with a bruised heel, Evan Fournier returned to the lineup on Wednesday night against the Hawks. Coming off the bench, Fournier played nearly 30 minutes, scoring 14 points on 6-14 from the field, and 2-6 from beyond the arc.
While getting Fournier back was big for a Magic team barren for quality depth on the wing, the Frenchman looked hobbled in his return to the court. Having not played, or practiced in nearly two weeks, the 6-foot-7 swingman showing some rust was not overly surprising.
“There were a couple possessions where he looked that way,” said Vogel when asked if he thought Fournier was hobbled throughout the night. “He looked a little rusty early, but I thought he finished well, and he looked good in the second half, which is to be expected. A little bit of rust and finally get a little bit of rhythm.”
The Magic’s leading scorer said it didn’t feel bad to be back out there, but noted that rust was a factor for him. “Obviously it’s not the best to go out without a practice, but I felt like it was time for me to come back,” said Fournier. “Obviously very happy to be back on the court, but kind of a frustrating game.”
With the team set to embark on the tough road trip, and face some of the best guards in the league, the Magic will need Fournier’s length on the defensive end, and scoring offensively if they want to be competitive. It might take him another game or two to fully be back in playing shape, but Fournier’s return is a welcoming sign for the Magic.