The Orlando Magic would have to engineer a shocking turnaround to reach the playoffs this season. They now sit 5½ games behind the eighth-place team in the Eastern Conference for the final postseason spot. That’s a lot of ground to make up.
But if the Magic are going to make the rest of the season interesting, they’re going to need to recapture the formula that staked them to a 12-13 record this season through Dec. 19, the night Glen Davis dislocated his left shoulder.
That’s what Wednesday's 97-86 victory over the Indiana Pacers at Amway Center really was about. They needed to regain their footing on defense.
“Early in the year, that was our strength, and we took a little turn for the worse,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Hopefully, this points us in the right direction. Our true identity is playing defense every night and putting ourselves in a position to make shots offensively. So, hopefully, tonight is something we can duplicate going forward, because this was the crux of our team early in the year.”
What happened Wednesday at least was a start. No one will mistake the Pacers for a good offensive team, at least not with Danny Granger out with a knee injury. But Orlando limited easy baskets, and the Magic also continued to integrate Davis and backup combo guard E’Twaun Moore back into the playing rotation.
“Defense is one of the things that we need to harp on every day, making sure that we compete on the defensive side,” Davis said.
In their first 25 games, the Magic compiled the sixth-best defensive rating in the NBA, limiting opponents to 98.8 points per 100 possessions.
“That’s why we started off 12-13,” J.J. Redick said. “Our offense wasn’t great for a number of those games, but we were in a position to win because of our defense, and that hasn’t been the case [lately]. . . . The defense has been terrible.”
In the 11 games that followed, Orlando ranked dead last defensively in the league, allowing other teams to score 113.4 points per 100 possessions.
The Magic limited the Pacers to 43.5 percent shooting, with some of those makes coming at the end of the game, when the outcome already was decided.
Meanwhile, Orlando (14-24) hit a season-high number of made 3-pointers and moved the ball expertly.
And the Magic also benefitted from the Pacers (24-16) playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
“It all plays a part,” Indiana point guard George Hill said. “I believe it is our fourth game in five nights, so fatigue can play a factor. There is no time for excuses, and everybody in the NBA goes through them.”
The game was more lopsided than the final score indicated.
The Magic went 12 for 21 from beyond the arc, and five players scored in double figures, led by center Nik Vucevic, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds.
“We played well on the defensive end,” Vucevic said. “We know we can score on the offensive end when we move the ball and we run our plays. But it was just more about getting stops for the whole game and staying focused. I think we did that tonight, and we got a huge win for us.”
Davis finished with 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting and four rebounds in 25 minutes.
With the win, Orlando ended its home losing streak at six games and generated some badly needed momentum.
Trailing 15-8 midway through the first quarter, Orlando went on a 32-8 run that stretched into the middle of the second quarter.
“When we’re all full-throttle, we can play with the best of them,” Davis said.
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