The Orlando Magic used another high-level defensive showing to secure a 108-102 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.
How much progress has the Magic’s defense made after the All-Star break and how will it handle going up against elite offenses? They won’t have to wait long to find out, with the next week giving them multiple opportunities for answers.
Wednesday marked the sixth time in seven games the Magic (17-50) finished with a better-than-league-average defensive rating — points allowed per 100 possessions.
Orlando’s 104.7 defensive rating since the All-Star break is the league’s best mark during that period and a significant improvement from its 117 defensive rating in nine games before the break.
“That’s two nights in a row holding teams to 102,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday’s win, which came one day after Orlando’s 102-99 loss to the Phoenix Suns. “That’s what we talk about. We’re going to hang our hats on the defensive end and our guys are understanding that. Our ability to sit down and guard is what we’re going to hang our hats on nightly.”
To Cole Anthony, the Magic’s defensive improvements come from being “tied together on a string.”
Orlando’s been protecting the rim — a staple of its defense — better since the break, allowing 45.1 points in the paint (sixth in the league) compared to 51.1 points (21st) in nine pre-break matchups.
“Rotations, we’ve been on point with that,” Anthony said. “Just having each other’s backs and making multiple efforts as a team. That’s really been the key to our defense being what it is right now.”
The caveat to the Magic’s improved defensive rating? Their performances have come against teams who’ve had season-long offensive struggles (Houston Rockets) or were without at least one of their primary offensive creators (Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet; Phoenix Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker; Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram ).
Friday’s home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (38-29) will be the start of matchups that give the Magic a better idea of how much progress they’ve made defensively. The Timberwolves have a 112.8 offensive rating (the league’s seventh-best mark) and a 119.5 offensive rating since Feb. 1.
Sunday’s home game will come against the Philadelphia 76ers, who rank top-three in offensive rating since James Harden joined the lineup while Tuesday’s matchup against the Brooklyn Nets will come against a team that’s played at an elite offensive level since Kevin Durant returned from his left knee injury.
The Magic will know how close they are, or how much farther they have to go.