In the high-possession, 3-point hurling NBA, keeping teams out of the 100s isn’t going to happen often with the final score.
Except with the Orlando Magic (1-6), it has yet to happen once. Every opponent has scored at least 104 points going into Monday’s game at the Minnesota Timberwolves to end a three-game trip.
“Three [games] in four nights, that might’ve taken a toll but that’s not an excuse,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons. “Wore down just a little bit.”
Going into their Sunday game, the Pistons were one of just three teams with an offensive rating, or points per 100 possession, of less than 100. Their 97.2 is an NBA-worst.
The Pistons scored 110 against the Magic, who allow a league-worst 115.4 per 100 possessions.
“It’s like in the earlier games,” said Magic rookie Franz Wagner, who had a team-high 19 points Saturday. “They were playing really physical defense and that kind of took us out of our game. We had a lot of live-ball turnovers that led to easy points.”
The teams were even in most statistical categories: 89-87 in field goals attempted (Detroit), 16-14 with made 3s (Orlando) and 48-46 rebounds (Detroit).
The difference came at the foul line where the Pistons were 24 of 30 compared with just 11 of 15 by the Magic.
While they might please Mosley with their “bell” plays — hitting the floor for loose balls, taking charges, deflections and having active hands — the effort hasn’t produce immediate results.
Getting cheap fouls on reach-ins is a way to cause such a deficit at the line. Live-ball turnovers can make it worse because the defense will be out of position.
Mosley’s mission is a tall order, though not impossible, for a team that doesn’t have expectations to reach the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls were top-12 despite being 10 games under .500 last season.
The top defensive teams tend to be playoff teams, able to adjust to opponents with lethal big lineups that play through the post, small-ball lineups that rely on spacing and motion or elite isolation players who simply can create their own shots.
Getting a young team such as Orlando, with so many moving pieces and veterans on short-term deals, to be connected defensively is asking a lot.
Defense isn’t just about 1 vs. 1. And while a team has core principles such as going over ball screens instead of automatically switching, schemes change based on the opponent.
Staying on the same page for 82 games, with practice time dwindling as the season gets longer and nicks and bruises take their toll, adds to the hurdles.
Last season, for instance, the top 11 defensive teams were all at least 4 games over .500. The L.A. Lakers were first in defensive rating at 106.8.
Being middle of the pack, however, isn’t unrealistic for Magic. If they’re ever going to be good enough to be a playoff team again, they’ll need that foundation.
Monday’s opponent, the Timberwolves (3-2), haven’t had a defensive identity since Kevin Garnett’s departure in 2007.
Suddenly, they do with Chris Finch in his first full season as coach.
They’re allowing only 98.4 points per 100 possessions — fourth-best in the league. That’s a 17-point difference compared with the Magic.
There’s a long way to go.