Magic Defense: Another Bad Game 1
The Magic, boasting the top-rated defense during the regular season, let L.A. score at will for several stretches of Game 1. Alarmed? Know that this wasn't the first series-opener this postseason in which Orlando's vaunted defense laid an egg.
Just as I did Thursday with Orlando's three-point shooting, I shoved the team's game-by-game defensive marks into a graph to see if we could find anything of note. I stayed with the eight-game rolling average trend-line. (These are single-game defensive ratings, by the way: points allowed per 100 possessions).
What we see is ... completely normal. Barring injury, trades, or meaningless games, defensive performances at the team level tends to be rather predictable. This can be predictably bad, predictably average, or predictably good. Orlando, this year, has been predictably good. That's a really flat trendline.
But exceptions occur, as one did Thursday night in L.A. This was a ... bad exception, at least from the perspective of the Magic. Orlando gave up 100 points over roughly 86 L.A. possessions, a defensive rating of 115.8, its fourth worst effort of the playoffs. On the season, Orlando only gave up 102 points per 100 possessions. Forget about the bad Magic shooting: that sort of defensive implosion is real, real bad.
We have precedent in these very playoffs, though. And in fact, blowing it on defense in Game 1s has precedent, as Orlando has turned out bad defensive nights in two of its other three Game 1s this postseason. In Game 1 of the Philadelphia series, Orlando allowed 100 points in 88 possessions, for a defensive rating of 113.5. In Game 1 of the Cleveland series, the Magic gave up 106 points in about 88 possessions, for a defensive rating of 119.4. The Magic defense did well in Game 1 of the Boston series (a 100 defensive rating), but blew it in Game 2 (a 124 rating).
What's it all mean? Well, Orlando can defend, despite what you saw Thursday. Its playoff defensive rating is 106.3, far better than the Game 1 effort at Staples. And that's not twisted up -- though Philadelphia is a mediocre offensive club, both Cleveland and Boston boasted offenses in the top six in the regular season (with the Cavs just 0.3 points per 100 possessions behind L.A.). The Magic shut down Boston's attack in four of seven games, and competed decently against Cleveland despite LeBron going godlike.
It won't mean a thing if the Magic can't get their own offense going, and to be honest there are myriad issues here to fix. But Orlando has shown it can fix them over the course of the playoffs. The rooting interests shouldn't give up hope just yet.