Magic vs. Clippers: Postgame Report

By John Denton
Jan. 11, 2017

LOS ANGELES – With apologies to Randy Newman’s catchy, hit song from 1983, the Orlando Magic certainly aren’t singing along to ``I Love L.A.’’ – particularly after what happened to them twice in the past four nights at Staples Center.

In Los Angeles for an extended stay – a rarity with a frenetic NBA schedule that usually has teams in and out of cities in a 48-hour timeframe – the Magic faced games against the Lakers on Sunday and the Clippers on Wednesday. Things didn’t start very well at all for the Magic with a 16-point loss to the rebuilding Lakers on Sunday. Orlando had two days to stew about it, and they responded with a much better effort on Wednesday only to come unglued in the fourth quarter of a 105-96 loss to the star-studded Clippers.

Not only did the defeat drop the Magic to 16-24 overall, but it extended their losing streak at Staples Center to eight games. Four of those losses have come against the Lakers and four against the Clippers (27-14) – a streak that dates back four years when Orlando topped the Clippers on Jan. 12, 2013.

Overall, the Magic have lost four games in a row and six of the last seven. The culprit on Wednesday: A 32-21, game-turning fourth quarter that brought a bitter end to Orlando’s five-day stay in L.A.

``We just have to continue to play and continue to show effort. It’s just two games and we have more games to play,’’ said forward Aaron Gordon, who scored 28 points and drilled four 3-pointers to keep the Magic close all night. ``We have to put this (L.A.) trip behind us. We know that we have some tough games coming up and we’ve got to focus on that.’’

On Wednesday, Orlando showed much more fight defensively and shared the ball better on the offensive end. They led by five after one period and took a two-point lead into the final 12 minutes of the game, but the Magic were undone by the shooting of J.J. Redick (22 points and three 3-pointers) and Maurice Speights (13 points and three 3-pointers – all in the decisive fourth quarter).

Despite the improved effort, the Clippers still made 51.3 percent of their shots, hit nine 3-pointers and held a 49-35 advantage on the glass.

``It’s a make-or-miss league a lot of times and we just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``We’ve got to have a defensive identity and be able to rely on our defense when our shots aren’t going. We’re continuing to try and establish that, but it hasn’t taken shape yet.’’

The streaky game was a microcosm of Orlando’s topsy-turvy performance all season. The Magic held 33-28 and 24-17 advantages in the first and third quarters, but they were outscored 28-18 in the second period and 32-21 in the fourth.

Said Vogel: ``It’s a 48-minute game and we can’t be happy with short stretches.’’

Gordon, who scored a career-best 33 points in Orlando’s 113-108 loss to the Clippers on Dec. 14 at the Amway Center, played well again on Wednesday with 28 points. He drilled his first six shots in an electrifying 16-point first quarter and made 11 of 17 shots and four of eight 3-pointers in the game.

``It’s pretty frustrating because this is a game that I thought we should have won by the way that we played,’’ Gordon said. ``We had a couple of breakdowns here and there and lapses in execution and a couple few too many turnovers and all that leads to a loss.’’

Nikola Vucevic (16 points and 12 rebounds) and Jeff Green (10 points and five rebounds) played well in their returns to the starting lineup, while Jodie Meeks (14 points and two 3-pointers) gave Orlando a nice lift off the bench.

Orlando got within 98-94 in the final 90 seconds before Redick drilled a step-back jumper. From there, Chris Paul (18 points, seven rebounds and six assists) sealed it with a 26-foot 3-pointer. DeAndre Jordan was a thorn in the Magic’s sides all night with 10 points, 20 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Wednesday was the Magic’s final of five consecutive nights in Los Angeles. The team flew into Southern California on Saturday and lost 111-95 to the Lakers on Sunday night. Orlando took the day off on Monday and practiced on Tuesday before facing the Clippers on Wednesday.

``We knew that this would be a tough trip, but this isn’t the time to get down on ourselves. We’ve got to keep competing,’’ Meeks said. ``We have to have faith that it will turn around. By no means are we out of the playoff hunt and until we are, we’ve got to keep grinding.’’

For the first time this season, the Magic were without power forward Serge Ibaka, who suffered a sprained shoulder on Sunday and was unable to play on Wednesday. Ibaka, who sat on the bench Wednesday night wearing a black leather jacket and a tan turtleneck sweater, said a MRI on the shoulder showed no structural damage and he hopes to play Friday when the Magic continue the longest road trip of the season in snowy Portland.

The Ibaka injury necessitated a lineup change, but Vogel took things a step further by juggling the starting five and the regular rotation. Vucevic started in place of Bismack Biyombo at center, while Green opened the game at power forward. Vogel also put second-year guard Mario Hezonja (two assists in 12 minutes) and veteran C.J. Watson (three points in 11 minutes) into the rotation to combat the Clippers’ small lineups brought on by the injury to power forward Blake Griffin (knee surgery).

``I saw some good things, but we’re just trying to five ourselves a different look,’’ Vogel said. ``We lost five out of six coming into tonight and we wanted to get a different look.’’

Vogel has told his team for some time that a turnaround wouldn’t come until it made a dramatic improvement defensively. Orlando did just that in the third period, holding the Clippers to just 17 points after halftime. The tougher defense – they held the Clippers to eight of 19 shooting – helped the Magic take a 75-73 edge into the final quarter.

Jamal Crawford, who had nine points and four assists, had L.A.’s final basket of the third quarter on a layup and he opened the fourth period with three free throws after drawing a foul. That seemed to ignite the Clippers and do in the Magic.

Clearly motivated by their poor play on Sunday and Vogel’s lineup changes, the Magic played with much more energy and purpose in the first half. They led by as much as seven late in the second quarter before surrendering a 20-8 close to the first half, a run that allowed the Clippers take a 56-51 edge into the locker room at intermission.

Gordon missed all five of his shots in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers and he vowed to find a local gym the next two days to get up extra shots. That work paid off in the first half as he made his first six shots and scored 18 points. He had 16 of those points in the first quarter, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

A month after setting his career high with 33 points against the Clippers at the Amway Center, Gordon drilled seven of 11 shots and two of five 3-point tries in the first half.

``There are a couple of things with smaller perimeter defenders and their (power forwards) that I like to see,’’ Gordon said. ``Sometimes you play well, sometimes the ball finds you and it goes into the basket and sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight, was one of those nights it was going in.’’

Paul, Redick and Jordan had their way with the Magic defense in the first half, particularly the final six minutes of the second quarter. Redick drilled two 3-pointers and five free throws for 17 first-half points, while Paul hurt the Magic early on with his scoring (13 points) and passing (five assists). Three of those assists were lobs to Jordan, who had seven points and 13 rebounds in the game’s first 24 minutes.

Added Gordon: ``I thought we played fine. But it wasn’t good enough – clearly.’’

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