Denton: Defense at Forefront of Team's Preparation

By John Denton
January 25, 2011


INDIANAPOLIS – After further review … the Orlando Magic need some work on their defense to get to the championship level they hope to be at by the start of the playoffs.

On Tuesday, several hours after the Magic were torched defensively by the middling Detroit Pistons, head coach Stan Van Gundy sat his team down in the film room and let the images do the talking for him. And according to those involved in the screening – at times what had to be a horror flick – the images were powerful ones.

``It was like a matinee … a defensive matinee,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``It was good to see because you could see it on film for yourself. People say things and you hear things all of the time, but when you see it for yourself you get a better idea of what you have to do.’’

What the Magic (29-16) have to do is be much better than they were in an ugly 103-96 loss to the Pistons on Monday night. Orlando fell into a 14-point hole early in the second half and saw repeated comeback attempts fail because of the inability to get stops defensively. Five Detroit players had at least 16 points against the Magic and hit one big basket after another one.

On Tuesday, Orlando’s emphasis was on its inability of late to shut off the paint, help defense and the overreliance on two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. With road games ahead against Indiana (Wednesday) and Chicago (Friday), the Magic know that their defensive effort will have to be better in the immediate future.

``We’re just not doing a good job of closing down the paint and making multiple efforts defensively,’’ Van Gundy said. ``There were plenty of times (Monday night) when the ball was being driven from the 3-point line to the rim and wasn’t stopped. Dwight should be our last line of defense. But right now we don’t have a first line of defense very often. (Howard) can’t be the entirety of our defense.’’

When the Magic made two blockbuster trades on Dec. 18 with Phoenix and Washington, they sacrificed some of their defense for more offensive firepower. Gone is 7-foot shot-blocker/rebounder Marcin Gortat, gritty wing defender Mickael Pietrus and underrated post defender Rashard Lewis. Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu are a part of the Magic now, but all three have made their marks in the NBA with their offensive exploits.

Still, Van Gundy feels that the Magic can get back to being an elite defensive team. Since the trades on Dec. 18, Van Gundy said the Magic rank sixth in the NBA in points per possession, a statistic that he said truly explains a defense’s true worth. But, as he stressed, that’s clearly not good enough.

``The number one thing is that we’ve been inconsistent, No. 2 we’ve fallen off defensively of late and No. 3 we’re not looking to be sixth in anything,’’ Van Gundy said. ``The No. 1 defensive team during that time in Chicago. And Boston is still ahead of us defensively, so it’s no secret at all why those teams are winning.’’

Howard, who ranks second in the league in rebounding and fifth in blocked shots, said there’s only so much that one player can do to shore up a team’s defense. He said the defense has to be an entire group functioning as one and helping each other out if the Magic are going to be elite at stopping foes.

``It has to be a team effort and it can’t be just one person. It has to be the whole team,’’ Howard said. ``One dribble to the rim, nobody can get there. There has to be some kind of resistance and there hasn’t been. It’s been too easy. Guys know I’m behind them, but they have to play their man better.’’

Howard said he wasn’t too concerned about the Magic’s defensive problems now because the team is playing for something much bigger than the regular season. Howard said as long as the Magic are right by playoff time, that’s what matters the most.

``When we play right, we’ll be OK. I’m not too worried about it right now,’’ Howard said. ``It’s January and we have a long season to go. We just have to be playing good at the right time.

``I just want us to be great coming into the playoffs,’’ Howard continued. ``Right now, it’s going to take a minute for us to get there. We know where we’re trying to get to, but it’s going to take time.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.