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Magic still struggling on the defensive end

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The Orlando Magic has lost three games in a row and five out of six. The latest was a highly disappointing 120-115 setback on Monday night at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, a team that had lost their previous eight games.

Orlando has now lost 44 of their 68 games this season after being a competitive 15-18 in December. The calendar is now midway into March, and the last time the team won back-to-back games was around Christmas time.

The shortcomings of this team have been on display at various times throughout the season. Poor shooting has dogged them in several games, especially early in the season. After all, isn’t the objective to put the ball into the basket?

On the other end, the defense has been an even greater problem. After playing well enough early on to achieve the third-best defensive ranking, their defense has been described as “Swiss cheese” by some and a “sieve” by head coach Frank Vogel.

This team has lost three games by 30 points this season, topped by last week’s 40-point embarrassment against the Charlotte Hornets.

When they play bad defense AND struggle shooting the ball, those are the kinds of things that can happen with this team.

The last five games are a microcosm of the season. Despite Elfrid Payton stepping up big time with three triple-doubles during that span, the Magic lost four of those five games.

Payton’s first triple-double came in a home game against the New York Knicks. A fourth-quarter collapse led to a New York win.

The Magic were able to beat the Chicago Bulls in the next game. Chicago’s 12 made three-pointers were not enough to overcome another triple-double by Payton.

Charlotte shot 60 percent and made 10 three-pointers in the game from hell, while the Cleveland Cavaliers shot 50 percent and made 15 threes in a competitive loss at home.

On Monday, the Kings shot 54 percent and made 16 of 30 three-point attempts, thwarting another triple-double by Payton. Allowing a team to shoot that well means there are open threes as well as some layups and dunks.

“We’re giving up the three-point line now,” Vogel said following the loss to the Kings. “The last three games there are a high number of threes going up, and we’ve got to get that under control.”

While he praised the team’s improvement with their defense “in the paint,” he pointed out that “the transition defense really hurt us.”

That is what leads to layups, dunks and high shooting percentages.

If Vogel and the Magic are concerned about giving up three pointers, they have two days to work on it before heading to Oakland on Thursday night to play the three-point happy Golden State Warriors.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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