Postgame Report: Magic at Spurs

by John Denton

SAN ANTONIO – The Orlando Magic limped into Tuesday’s game weary from being on the road 10 consecutive nights and spiritually beaten down from a prolonged stretch of losing. The San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, came in in the unfamiliar position of being outside the playoff race and in desperate need of wins to keep their 20-year streak in the postseason alive.

The results were not only predictable, but downright ugly for an Orlando team clearly running on fumes.

When the Magic yielded a 17-0 second-quarter burst and fell behind by as much as 26 points late in the first half, it sealed their fate and sent them careening to a 108-72 loss to veteran-laden Spurs.

The one-sided defeat – one in which the Magic trailed by as much as 42 points in the second half – fittingly wrapped up a five-game, 10-day trip in which they emerged winless. The Magic twice set season lows for points scored on the trip, mustering just 80 points in Utah on March 5 and only 72 points on Tuesday.

Afterward, center Nikola Vucevic – the longest-tenured player on the Magic and someone who has endured all six of Orlando’s consecutive non-playoff seasons – sounded like a man with a broken spirit.

``It’s hard with this many games left and having nothing to play for,’’ said Vucevic, who missed six of his first seven shots and finished five of 14 from the floor in a 10-point, 10-rebound effort. ``It’s not easy year after year after year for me. The frustration has really grown on me, especially the last two years. I felt like at some point we were going in the right direction, but then we took a turn downhill. It’s just tough, but hopefully we can finish the season the right way and represent the Magic, represent each other and our fans.’’

Energy, in addition to motivation, seem to be in short supply nearing the end of another frustration-filled season for Orlando (20-48), which has lost five games in a row and 12 of 14. The Magic have dropped their last eight games on the road, not winning since Feb. 5 in Miami.

The Magic were once again without leading scorers Aaron Gordon (concussion) and Evan Fournier (knee sprain) and it showed in their offense. Gordon, who was concussed last Wednesday in the one-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, hoped to play on Tuesday, but he was not cleared from the NBA concussion protocol. He will re-take the test again on Wednesday morning in hopes of returning later that night.

The Magic shot just 34.1 percent from the floor and made only seven of 23 3-point shots. They mustered just 37 points in the first half and had only 57 through three periods. Jonathon Simmons (three-of-13 shooting) and Vucevic each had 10 points, but they struggled against San Antonio’s aggressive defense.

Tuesday’s result was dramatically different than the first meeting between the two teams in Orlando – a 114-87 Magic win in which they led by as much as 37 points.

``They came in obviously very motivated, both from their playoff situation and losing to us last time in Orlando. They took the pressure to us, picking up full court and denying all over the court,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said of the Spurs (38-30). ``They took us out of a lot of things early and when we got punched in the mouth we really lost focus at the task at hand and really played a poor rest of the game.’’

The Spurs played a night earlier in Houston and lost for a third straight time and for the fifth time in six games. San Antonio came into Tuesday in 10th place in the rugged Western Conference, but just two games out the fourth seed. San Antonio, which might not get injured superstar forward Kawhi Leonard back this season, has made the playoffs each season since 1996-97 and is trying to keep alive one of sports’ greatest streaks.

LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points and seven rebounds) dominated inside for San Antonio, which shot better than 50 percent from the floor for the game’s first three quarters. Patty Mills had 13 points and two 3-pointers, while Danny Green added 11 points and three 3-pointers. San Antonio finished the game at 47.6 percent from the floor with nine 3-pointers.

Tuesday’s game was the first regular-season game back in San Antonio for Simmons since he left the Spurs to sign with the Magic last July. Simmons, who made the NBA via a $150 G League tryout, played on San Antonio teams that won 67 and 62 games the past two seasons. But he longed for a bigger role and he’s found in Orlando where he came into Tuesday averaging a career-best 13.7 points per game – more than twice the 6.2 he averaged last season with the Spurs. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said he’s always known that Simmons was capable of more, and he’s proud that he’s been able to show off his skills this season.

``He had a kind of take-no-prisoners, destroy-you attitude. He was tough, he stuck his nose in there and he wasn’t afraid or fearful of anything and he channeled it correctly and in a competitive way,’’ Popovich said of what drew him to Simmons as he worked his way to making the Spurs’ roster. ``It wasn’t fake bravado or fake toughness. He stuck his nose in and he wasn’t intimidated by anything. Then, as we went along you’d see his bursts of athleticism, he could go by people and he was special in that regard.’’

If the Magic thought Tuesday’s trip-ending game was taxing, it will likely pale in comparison to the difficulty they will be facing on Wednesday. Orlando hosts Milwaukee less than 24 hours after playing in San Antonio and concluding a 10-day road trip. The Bucks, who have already beaten the Magic twice this season, haven’t played since Monday and should be well-rested.

The Magic were in a similar situation earlier in the season when they lost in Houston on Jan. 30 and returned to Orlando a night later to rout the Los Angeles Lakers. Magic coach Frank Vogel plans to use that memory in his pregame pep talk come Wednesday night.

``The last time we did it we won by (22 points),’’ Vogel said. ``On paper, this is daunting. But we’ve done it before this year and won big. That wasn’t coming back from a West Coast trip, so it’s definitely different. But we’ve have had some success in this situation to draw from.’’

Down 25 at the half, the Magic saw that deficit swell to as much as 42 points in the third quarter. When veteran guard Tony Parker (10 points in 20 minutes) converted a finger-roll layup with 12 seconds remaining in the third period, the Spurs had a commanding 96-54 lead.

``They denied us the whole game, they set us up and wouldn’t let us get comfortable. And they wouldn’t let us get to our spots and we didn’t know how to overcome that,’’ said Magic point guard D.J. Augustin, who had nine points and six assists in 25 minutes. ``We’ve got to pass and cut more. We just didn’t do enough of that and they took us out of our offense.’’

Orlando trailed 62-37 in a first half that was as lopsided as any this season. The Magic stayed somewhat within striking distance for the first 17 minutes and got within 37-29 when Magic rookie forward Jonathan Isaac drilled a 3-pointer. However, the Spurs took whatever drama there was in the game and extinguished it with a 17-0 burst that included three 3-pointers and four free throws.

Isaac figured prominently in the run, but not necessarily in a positive way. After getting switched onto Aldridge, the Spurs’ big man drilled Isaac in the chest with a shoulder, knocking him back so that he could sink a lefty hook shot.

Following a time out, Isaac couldn’t get the ball in bounds and his pass was stolen by Patty Mills. After Mills and Danny Green drilled 3-pointers, Isaac committed a foul that send Dejounte Murray to the free throw line. Seconds later, after Isaac missed a 3-pointer, he was whistled for a second foul for contesting a Green shot at the rim. That controversial call resulted in Vogel being whistled for a technical foul.

Later in the second quarter, Isaac had his high dribble picked off by Parker. He was forced to foul Parker to prevent another San Antonio fast break.

Isaac finished with seven points, five rebounds and a blocked shot in 24 minutes. When the Magic left Orlando last week, they were 8-7 in the 15 games the prized rookie had appeared in this season. He appeared in all five games of the trip and Orlando dropped them all – at no fault of the eager rookie who continues to show flashes defensively and more comfort on the offensive end.

On this night, Orlando simply didn’t have enough energy or motivation at the end of a taxing 10-day trip to keep up with the motivated Spurs.

``It’s hard, but this is our job,’’ Augustin said of being on the road for the past 10 nights. ``We’ve got to come out ready no matter who we play or where we play or how the road trip looks. We didn’t get it done tonight and it was a hard trip for us.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.