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Unwillingness to defend continuing to plague Orlando Magic

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The Magic haven’t played much defense over their last dozen games, and it’s showing more and more.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Inconsistency can plague a team on both ends of the floor.

For the Orlando Magic, an inconsistent energy and effort level on the defensive end has been a continuing issue. Friday night against the defending champion Golden State Warriors was once again a reminder of just how far the Magic have to go on that end of the floor.

Golden State brings forth a unique test for teams on defense.

With four, and sometimes five players on the court at all times that can handle the ball and initiate the offense, coupled with knock down shooting with those same players, the Warriors are a matchup nightmare. Add in the fact that the Magic are a team that are struggling to find a happy balance of switching and not-switching, and Friday night was the perfect storm.

“We’re not tough enough on the defensive end,” said coach Frank Vogel.

The defending champs picked apart the Magic, beating them on back door plays, transition and with just natural ball and player movement. When all was said and done, Golden State had amassed 46 assists on 55 field goals — one assist shy of their franchise record — and shot a scorching hot 62.5 percent from the field.

“Tougher, more alert, more physical,” said Vogel when asked what his defense could’ve done better. “Compete more. Follow the scheme more, I should say the plan more than the scheme. We just got to play tougher than that to beat the champs.”

Toughness and execution has been something the Magic have been searching for all season defensively.

After showing some signs of improvement early, the Magic have fallen off the cliff in their last 12 games. Over that stretch, teams have torched the Magic for an average of 114.9 points per 100 possessions, nearly three more than the Chicago Bulls, who had the second highest average.

Moreover, the Magic have given up over 115 points in seven of those 12 games, including a season-high 133 to the Warriors on Friday night.

“There’s a lot,” said Nikola Vucevic when asked about what areas the team could’ve been better in on the defensive end. “Effort wise, when you play against a team like Golden State, you’ve got to give it all. You’ve got to keep fighting, keep scrambling and we definitely didn’t do that. We didn’t execute any of the game plan like we should have.”

Clearly the Magic didn’t execute their game plan, or make the adjustments that were needed for them to find success defensively.

“We just didn’t do anything we were supposed to defensively,” said Vucevic. “We didn’t play hard enough, we didn’t compete enough, we didn’t execute the game plan. We messed up on simple things we had talked about. Not good effort defensively when they score like that.”

Their lack of effort, and ability to execute the game plan aside, the Magic have a lot of bigger issues on the defensive end.

Consistently they’ve been unable to put it together from game-to-game. Wednesday night they showed signs of being a strong defensive team, holding the Oklahoma City Thunder under 40 percent from the field, and, aside from a 20-point fourth quarter from Russell Westbrook, kept the big-three of Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George in check.

Friday night they returned to the same ways that keep them from winning games. Their inconsistent effort is frustrating, and Vucevic has some ideas as to why they struggle.

“Effort, focus, will to defend. All those things, I think we don’t take enough pride in that end to do it. Also, the togetherness on that end. It’s not on the offensive end where you play together and share the ball. On the defensive end you’re trying to help each other, you communicate, trust each other all that. It hasn’t been there for us consistently.”

With one of, if not the hardest part of their schedule behind them, the Magic will have a chance to get into a rhythm and possibly win some games.

If they’re going to do that, it’s going to start with their play on the defensive end, where they have a lot of questions to answer.

The first of which is their effort, and will to defend.