Putting perhaps the perfect bow on an extraordinary February, the Orlando Magic held the Golden State Warriors to 96 points on Thursday in a win. The Warriors hadn’t been held below 100 since December, and had only scored fewer than 100 five other times in 61 games. Now, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins playing most of the game, the Ws only scored 96 on the Magic.
This says more about the Magic than the Warriors. Orlando capped off an 8-3 February in which they had the best defense in the league by far, allowing just 100 points per 100 possessions. Indiana was No. 2 for the month at 104.4. Over the last 15 or so games, the Magic under noted defensive whiz Steve Clifford have figured out a strong resistance relying on effort and length.
The Magic are No. 8 in the league in defense on the season, and they are following Clifford’s old Charlotte playbook on how to build a playoff team with an underwhelming roster: defend like crazy, and rely on two players for offense. With the Hornets that was Kemba Walker and (sometimes) Nicolas Batum. With the Magic that’s Nikola Vucevic (usually, though not vs. Golden State) and sometimes Aaron Gordon or Terrence Ross or Evan Fournier.
Orlando is currently tied for the No. 8 slot in the East with Clifford’s old Charlotte team. The Magic haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, with the East’s longest drought. If it ends this year, it’s all because of defense ... and hiring Steve Clifford was a huge part of that. Nice work, Orlando.
Timberwolves 115, Pacers 122
Warriors 96, Magic 103
Cavaliers 125, Knicks 118
Heat 118, Rockets 121
Sixers 108, Thunder 104
Jazz 111, Nuggets 104
Here’s the national TV games happening this weekend. All times Eastern. Full schedule here.
Blazers at Raptors, 8, ESPN
Bucks at Lakers, 10:30, ESPN
Warriors at Sixers, 8:30, ABC
Rockets at Celtics, 3:30, ABC
Grizzlies at Thunder, 7, NBA TV
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Be excellent to each other.