The Orlando Magic have upended their organization since the end of the 2012 playoffs.
But there's one area that might remain unchanged: their defense.
And that would be a significant problem.
Orlando struggled defensively when a back injury sidelined Dwight Howard last season, and it's unclear whether the rebuilding team will be any better. The Magic endured familiar difficulties in their preseason finale Friday night as the Houston Rockets routed them 108-92 at Amway Center.
"I don't care what the situation is," Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. "You never want to give up that many points and give up the percentage we gave up tonight."
The Rockets excelled with their pick-and-roll game and made almost 53 percent of their first-half shots — the only half the Magic's starters played. In a measure of how badly Houston carved up Orlando, the Rockets notched assists on 16 of their first 20 baskets.
"It concerns me, definitely," power forward Glen Davis said. "You can't let a team come out here and just play free. You can't do that. If we don't play offense, we've got to most definitely play defense, no matter what."
The Magic looked out of sync almost all night, on both ends of the court, as if they were counting the seconds until their exhibition schedule ended. The Orlando offense had clicked in most of the first seven preseason games, but in Friday's first half, the team shot just 34 percent and managed just seven assists.
Orlando, which finished October with a 2-6 record, won't play again until it opens its regular season Nov. 2 against the Denver Nuggets at Amway Center.
The Rockets (5-2) encountered almost no difficulty breaking down the Magic defense.
"I think the most glaring weakness that we showed was transition defense," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "Make or miss, they were able to get the ball up the floor and create scoring opportunities."
It was reminiscent of Orlando's performances without Howard last season. Opponents shot at least 50 percent in eight of the Magic's first 11 games without the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. (The 12th game was Orlando's regular-season finale, and Magic starters had that night off.)
Newcomer Arron Afflalo is considered a better wing defender than his predecessor, Jason Richardson. Afflalo, who finished with eight points in 18 minutes Friday, has said the new-look Magic shouldn't have any problems scoring points.
Instead, he wants to see how the team will defend.
The Magic played Friday without big man Gustavo Ayón, who will miss at least another week and a half because of a sprained left thumb. The Magic also played without J.J. Redick, a solid team defender who did not dress because of a sore hip.
Reserve point guard Ish Smith saw his first game action since he underwent offseason shoulder surgery. In 12 minutes, Smith scored six points, didn't have an assist and had one turnover.
"It was good, but the first four or five minutes, I was gassed," Smith said.
Vaughn began the third quarter with E'Twaun Moore, DeQuan Jones, Justin Harper, Andrew Nicholson and Josh McRoberts on the court.
The starters did not return.
Mercifully, their night and their preseason was over.
"It was just a lack of concentration on our end," Nelson said. "It was good for us. It was a good old butt-whooping, and it showed us the things we need to work on."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun