Denton: Magic Showing Plenty of Grit
By John Denton
December 18, 2012
ORLANDO – Of all of the surprises from the Orlando Magic so far – their current three-game win streak and 11-13 record might top that list – the grit with which the team has defended has been the most shocking. After all, the Magic did trade away three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard in the offseason, and a defensive dip was expected to follow. Instead, Orlando has been one of the league’s steadiest defensive squads.
The Magic enter Wednesday night’s game at the Amway Center against the woeful Washington Wizards with some gaudy defensive numbers. The Magic are eighth in the league in points allowed per game (94.71), tied for seventh in defensive field goal percentage (43.7 percent) and ninth in the NBA in rebounding (43.38). And they have been solid defensively despite racking up low numbers in the glamour categories when it comes to defense. Orlando is last in the league in steals (6.04) and 24th in blocked shots (4.79).
Without one dominant shot blocker, the Magic have had to defend and scramble as a unit. Head coach Jacque Vaughn said the credit for the defense belongs to the entire team.
``I think the commitment from the guys has been great. We talked at the beginning of the year that the only way was doing it together with team defense,’’ Vaughn said. ``That’s our approach and that’s the way our schemes have been designed. Our guys have done a good job of doing their part to help us defensively.’’
Winners of a season-best three straight after upending Golden State, Charlotte and Minnesota, the Magic are trying to avoid a major letdown against the perpetually struggling Wizards. Washington (3-19) is 1-10 on the road and 1-13 against teams from the Eastern Conference. They Wizards dropped their fourth consecutive game on Tuesday when they lost at home in overtime to the Atlanta Hawks. But they did beat Miami earlier in the season, making the Magic cautious.
``I don’t look at team’s record because with the talent level in the NBA, while it might fluctuate a little bit, there are all good players,’’ said Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who will play despite a bruised right knee that was wrapped in ice Wednesday morning. ``If you don’t come to play you will lose. This is a team that beat Miami and has been in a lot of close games. It’s a must-win for us and confidence-building, stepping stone for us and that’s the way that we’ll approach it.’’
While Vaughn has said that the Magic’s defensive success is a team thing, Afflalo is quick to credit the Magic’s front line for the stingy play. He said the agility on traps and the toughness around the rim of Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, Nikola Vucevic, Gustavo Ayon and rookie Andrew Nicholson have been a big reason for the Magic’s defensive success.
The Magic are tied for fourth in the NBA in fewest times allowing foes to reach the 100-point plateau (six). The Magic are 3-3 in those games, while only Memphis (one), Chicago (five) and Indiana (five) have allowed fewer 100-point games.
Because their defense is so good, the Magic are almost unbeatable when the top 100 points themselves. They are 8-1 when scoring at least 100 points. That .889 winning percentage is tied for second best in the league with New York (16-2) and trails only Oklahoma City’s .994 win percentage (17-1) when scoring 100 points.
``Our bigs are doing a good job of staying active and that’s always a big part of defense – how the bigs are protecting the basket,’’ Afflalo said. ``We haven’t had another team come in here and just shoot the lights out. All of our struggles have come on the offensive end. But we’ve been a good defensive team and a lot of the credit goes to Glen, Nik and (Ayon) and some of the guys who are protecting the basket and have help responsibilities.’’
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