Magic Fall to High-Octane Clippers

Victor Oladipo

By John Denton
Jan. 6, 2014

LOS ANGELES – First, there was insult for the Orlando Magic in the form of a horrific start and a frustrating, head-scratching 35-point deficit. Then, came the injury with standout center Nikola Vucevic crashing hard to the floor head-first and suffering a scary concussion.

Finally, there was a glimmer of hope for a Magic squad looking for anything to cling to on an otherwise forgettable night against a Los Angeles Clippers playing with something to prove.

A disheartening 101-81 loss to the high-octane Clippers got away from the Magic early on Monday night, and things only grew worse in the third quarter when Vucevic had his legs knocked out from under him and he banged his head to leave him glassy-eyed and woozy.

For three quarters, this one was as lopsided and forgettable as college football’s BCS National Championship was close and enthralling on the other side of Los Angeles in nearby Pasadena. The Magic (10-24) were so wrecked by the Clippers (24-12) that many of the players were left searching for answers after the game.

``You knew they were going to come out and play hard and could feel the intensity. It was like, `Whoa!’ when they jumped out and it felt like they made every shot,’’ said Magic power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis. ``…We’ve got to understand if we want to compete at a high level that’s how we have to compete every day.

``As a competitor you want to compete and be in the fight, but they hit us and it was tough,’’ Davis said later. ``We didn’t fight tonight. All around, we didn’t fight. Some nights it’s going to be like that but you have to fight out of it. We play a great team on Wednesday in Portland and we have to go out there and fight.’’

When things looked their most bleak Monday night, Magic young reserves Victor Oladipo and Maurice Harkless breathed some life into the team. The night could have been historically bad for the Magic if not for the undying effort of Oladipo and Harkless, who helped the Magic craft a mini-run in the fourth quarter. Oladipo, the prized pick from last June’s NBA Draft at No. 2, scored 22 points, while Harkless relentlessly attacked in the fourth quarter and finished with a season-high 22 points.

Once down 80-45 in the fourth period, Oladipo and Harkless willed Orlando back to within 16 points of the Clippers, but they couldn’t keep the run going down the stretch. Still, their solid play could be something to build off for a Magic team that will have to change the roster with Vucevic out indefinitely and other starters struggling mightily.

``I was just trying to be aggressive. It’s that simple, be aggressive and play hard,’’ said Oladipo, who made eight of 15 shots, hit three 3-pointers and chipped in eight rebounds and five steals. ``They came out aggressive and playing fast. Credit them for playing well. We just tried to keep fighting.’’

The defeat was the fourth in a row for the Magic (10-24) and their 10th in a row against a team from the powerful Western Conference. Just two months ago, Orlando whipped the Clippers at Amway Center, but this one was never in doubt following a one-sided start to the game by the Clippers (24-13).

Vucevic, who buoyed Magic hopes after returning from an ankle injury, sustained a concussion when his head hit the floor hard midway through the third quarter. Vucevic jumped to block a Blake Griffin shot attempt, but hit the power forward as he was jumping, sending the Magic 7-footer’s body tumbling through the air and hard onto the floor.

Vucevic eventually got to his feet and sat on the bench briefly before retreating back to the locker room. It’s the second concussion in two seasons for Vucevic. He will have to pass a series of concussion protocols before he will be allowed to return, meaning he’s likely out several days.

The Magic are 0-6 this season and 1-10 in the past two years when Vucevic is out injured. Before his fall on Monday, the hope was that his return would not only benefit Orlando’s rebounding and defense, but also create space offensively for perimeter shooters.

``It was a pretty bad fall. He’s already been diagnosed with a concussion and he’ll enter the concussion protocol and we’ll leave it in the hands of the doctors now,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``I did talk to (Vucevic). He’s got a headache right now. The good thing is he’ll make it through this and we’ve just got to wait it out.’’

Orlando’s starting five contributed just 28 points with Afflalo leading the way with 12 points on five of 12 shooting. Tobias Harris had one basket and eight missed shots, while Jameer Nelson also missed eight times and had only three points.

Darren Collison led L.A. with 21 points, while DeAndre Jordan chipped in 14 points and 17 rebounds. Griffin scored 16 points, had eight rebounds and six assists. The Clippers had 30 assists on their 35 field goals.

Through the years, Orlando has dominated the Clippers like no other franchise. The Magic came into Monday’s game having beaten the Clippers 11 times in the past 13 meetings, including five straight times in Staples Center.

The Magic won 104-101 in Los Angeles against the Clippers last January, and toppled the Clippers in Orlando in November for one of their best victories of the season. Vucevic dominated that game with 30 points and 21 rebounds, but he was unable to replicate that kind of production on Monday night.

Monday’s game was the first of a five-game road trip that will cover all or part of 10 days. The Magic will be in Portland (Wednesday), Sacramento (Friday), Denver (Saturday) and Dallas (Monday). The Clippers were playing their second game and their first in Los Angeles without star point guard Chris Paul, who suffered a separated shoulder last week. Paul is expected to miss the next five weeks because of the injury.

``It’s one of those situations where it could have been worse,’’ Paul said before Monday’s game. ``I woke up (Sunday) and was done feeling sorry for myself. I’ve got to approach the rehab and get back as soon as I possibly can.’’

The Clippers didn’t seem to miss Paul’s playmaking abilities in the early going, handing out 16 assists on their first 17 baskets. By halftime, L.A. had already piled up a staggering 20 assists on their 22 field goals to build a 60-34 lead by intermission.

Three of those assists resulted in highlight-worthy fastbreak dunks for the Clippers. Jordan had a dunk over Davis in transition and later converted an alley-oop for another dunk. Griffin also caught a lob, but he showed off his incredible athleticism by windmill-dunking the ball to the delight of the big Staples Center crowd.

Harkless and Oladipo gave the Magic some spark off the bench in an otherwise forgettable first half. They combined for 16 first-half points – only two less points than the Magic’s starting five. Tobias Harris did not score in the first half, while Davis and Vucevic had just one basket apiece in the first 24 minutes.

The Magic sputtered out of the gates in the first quarter and nearly got overwhelmed by the hot-shooting Clippers. Orlando missed 11 of its first 12 shots and by then the Clippers already had a commanding 20-3 lead. And by the time the Clippers pushed their lead to a whopping 21 points, they had hit 13 of 20 shots, while the Magic had made just five of 17 tries.

``They got beat pretty bad the game before so they came out with an extreme sense of urgency and got up and down the floor and made shots early,’’ Vaughn said. ``They had great ball movement and we were playing from behind from the beginning.’’