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Pregame notebook: Defensive rebounding issues and Augustin’s better play

The Magic haven’t been as good on the defensive boards this season, and it’s hurt them.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The rebounding battle

Winning the rebounding battle every night is critical for a team to win in the NBA.

While the Orlando Magic still rank in the top-six in defensive rebounding rate this season, grabbing 74.5 percent of all defensive rebound opportunities, the slight downtick from last season is hurting them. Over their last seven games, they’ve lost the rebounding battle six times, and have felt the ill-effects of that.

“It was one of our strengths last year,” said Steve Clifford ahead of their matchup with the Chicago Bulls. “I think we ended up in the top-five in defensive rebounding. There’s some other issues, but two of the things that we’re doing really poorly, that last year we were really good at, are getting back in transition and getting out defense set, which is rocking us, and we’re not being physical and blocking out and rebounding, which is crushing us.

“They’re [the players] are well aware of it. It’s been a constant emphasis, and it could get fixed tonight. It’s not something you need to practice. You can just run back, sprint back, get you to talk, you can block out, they all know how to block out. Some guys aren’t physical by nature, these guys are. We didn’t rebound well early last year, but once they understood we weren’t going to win if they didn’t do it, they did it.”

To Clifford’s point, following the All-Star break last season when the Magic finished the season 15-8, they led the league in defensive rebounding rate, grabbing 77.6 percent of all available chances. Before the All-Star break they grabbed 74.6 percent of all the available chances, which still ranked in the top-10 in the league.

Still, it’s alarming to see the drop , and it’s clear it’s having an impact on the team. Their inability to get back has hurt them on multiple occasions this season, and while they’re giving up roughly the same amount of fast break points per game — 13.0 this season to 12.7 last year — that slight increase has hurt some.

If they’re going to turn things around, the rebounding is going to be something they’re going to have to turn around first, and that starts Monday night against the Bulls.

D.J. Augustin turning it around

After a rough start to the season shooting the ball, point guard D.J. Augustin is starting to get things going again for the Magic.

Augustin has finished in double figures in eight of his last 10 games, and knocked down at least two three pointers in five of those contests. Added in there, the crafty veteran has been getting to the free throw line, averaging 4.3 attempts per game over that 10 game stretch.

He’s one of the hardest workers on the team according to coach Clifford, getting in the gym before many of the young players on a daily basis. That work is paying off, and his play has helped a Magic bench which has struggled mightily this season to have consistent production from the second unit.

“He’s played well, he just hasn’t shot the ball as well [early this season],” said Clifford. “He’s in a good place and he’s shooting the ball a lot better. He’s in the paint a lot, which we’re scoring off, but he’s been doing that all year anyway. I do think he’s feeling good, and he’s shooting the ball better and better.”

Some of his stronger play can likely be attributed to more familiarity with the second unit, which he was moved to thanks to the strong play from Markelle Fultz early on. After having played with the same guys over-and-over, he had to learn where guys like the ball, and the spots where they can be successful that he can help them in.

With Augustin coming around, the rest of the bench needs to begin to pick things up also if the Magic want to turn things around from their early struggles.