Postgame Report: Magic vs. Pacers (4/16/14)
By John Denton
April 16, 2014
ORLANDO – Wednesday night’s shell of a game – one that featured little meaning and even less intensity – brought an end to the regular season, but signaled the beginning to what figures to be an ultra-important offseason for the Orlando Magic.
Following the 101-86 defeat to the Indiana Pacers AT THE Amway Center, the Magic wrapped up a 23-59 season and shifted the focus to the next big date on the calendar: The May 20 NBA Draft Lottery. That night could shed some light on the caliber of players – plural because the team will have two lottery picks – that the Magic will add on draft night in June.
Following a season filled with wild highs and lows, the Magic hit the offseason armed with the motivation of needing to improve so that the same thing doesn’t happen again.
``Two years in and the third year in we don’t want to be losers again,’’ said Magic power forward Kyle O’Quinn, who made as many gains this season as any player on the roster. ``I’m not saying that we’re losers. We made strides, but we still have a long way to go to be up there with the Indiana Pacers and the Heat. We’re a long way from that, so we’ve got to continue to work.’’
Orlando improved by three wins over last season, but head coach Jacque Vaughn said from the start that this transition season would be judged more by player growth and team development than on wins and losses. Rather than obsess over a second straight sour season, the Magic would rather celebrate the development of rookie guard Victor Oladipo and the strides of young players O’Quinn, Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris and Dewayne Dedmon.
The hope is that with another summer of tireless work from the young players and the addition of some top talent from the draft that Orlando will be able to make some strides next season in the weakened Eastern Conference.
``I really believe in the process of working your way toward being really good and an elite team for a long time. Believe me, we’re dedicated to that process,’’ Vaughn said. ``We’ve got good men in the locker room that want to get better. They got better this year.’’ One player who certainly got better as the season went along was Oladipo, who closed out his rookie campaign with four points in 17 minutes. His final act of the season was a dazzling steal and dunk with 4:38 to play in the third quarter. Oladipo played 80 games and 2,486 minutes, averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals a game.
``I don’t know else will (motivate him more),’’ Magic rookie Victor Oladipo said. ``I just want to get better, be great and be one of the greatest to play. The only thing I know how to do is get in the gym and get better, so that’s what I’m going to do.’’
By finishing with the NBA’s third-worst record, the Magic will have 156 of 1,001 four-digit combinations in the lottery to win the first pick in the June Draft. That is the third-best odds behind Milwaukee (250 chances) and Philadelphia (199 chances). The Magic, who have a 46.9 percent chance of getting a top-three pick, can drop no lower than No. 6 if they get unlucky on lottery night. The teams with the third-best odds have won the past two NBA Draft Lotteries (New Orleans and Cleveland).
Over the course of the next couple of days, Orlando’s players will conduct exit interviews with GM Rob Hennigan and Vaughn before dispersing for the summer. Many of the players have already said that they plan to spend the summer working out at the team headquarters and those drills will likely start following a two-week break.
Harkless led the Magic with 14 points, while reserve guard E’Twaun Moore chipped in 13. Arron Afflalo (seven points) and Tobias Harris (six points) didn’t play in the second half of a game that had the feel of a preseason game.
``I’m pretty sure everybody in the locker room is tired of losing and it’s something that we don’t want to do again next year,’’ Harkless said. ``Hopefully it’s something that we can fix.’’
Evan Turner, who has taken much of the blame for Indiana’s late-season swoon following his arrival from Philadelphia, had 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes.
The Magic held out veteran point guard Jameer Nelson (groin strain) and starting center Nikola Vucevic (Achilles’ soreness) for a third straight game. Nelson has a team option on his contract for next season, while Vucevic is eligible for a contract extension this summer for the first time.
Indiana also had little to play for as well after locking up the East’s top seed on Monday night with a Miami loss. The Pacers, who entered the game 9-13 since March 4, rested starters Paul George, David West and Lance Stephenson for the finale.
Orlando saw a six-point halftime deficit turn into a 75-62 score by the start of the second half. Doron Lamb (11 points and two 3-pointers) started the second half in place of Afflalo and Harris did not play after halftime.
The first half ended in embarrassing fashion for the Magic as Rasual Butler sneaked behind the defense following a made free throw for a dunk at the buzzer that gave Indiana a 46-40 lead at the break. E’Twaun Moore hit two free throws with 1.3 seconds left in the half, but Butler got behind the defense and dunked just before the horn.
Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo and Kyle O’Quinn started the game, but played only sparingly in the first half. None of the three played in the second quarter. Afflalo scored six points in the first quarter before leaving the game after just six minutes. He did not play in the second half and was replaced by Doron Lamb.
Vaughn decided to play veteran power forward Jason Maxiell on Wednesday in what figures to be his final game in a Magic uniform. Maxiell, who has played in just 33 games this season and only four since Jan. 13, had two points and a rebound in five first-half minutes.
Harkless said there will come a time real soon when the Magic are no longer the young team and the team battling through mistakes at the end of close games. Brighter days are ahead, Harkless stressed, for a Magic team filled with promising pieces.
``With a lot of hard work and some persistence, I’m sure we’re going to be a good team soon,’’ Harkless said.