Magic Rely on Aaron Gordon's All-Around Talent

ATLANTA – Quite possibly, no player on the Orlando Magic roster is more of a barometer for the team’s success than forward Aaron Gordon, whose recent hot streak has led to improved shooting and scoring for the squad.

It was of little surprise that the Magic pulled off their largest comeback of the season on Monday in Brooklyn in a game where the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Gordon played one of the best all-around games of his career. Gordon not only scored 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, but he delivered the defensive gem of the night as the Magic wiped out a 19-point deficit in the second half to beat the Nets 115-113.

So often over the past two seasons, Gordon’s scoring – particularly his 3-point shooting – has dictated success or failure for the Magic. This season, his numbers are significantly better in the 23 wins he’s played in (16.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists on 46.2 percent shooting overall and 36.3 percent accuracy from 3-point range) than in the 28 losses he’s been a part of (12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists on 39.8 percent shooting and 27.0 percent accuracy from 3-point range).

Also, there’s this as it relates to the sixth-year NBA forward: Orlando is 5-2 this season and 17-7 over the past two seasons when Gordon makes at least three 3-pointers. The Magic are 14-8 this season when Gordon scores at least 15 points and 30-12 over the last two seasons when he hits that 15-point plateau.

``It’s just a feel for me. I’m feeling good, feeling confident and I’m getting better,’’ said Gordon, who came into Wednesday averaging 14.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game on the season. ``I’ve just got to settle into being myself and playing my game and that will make our team better.’’

It certainly makes the Magic better when Gordon uses his rare combination of hustle and muscle and length and strength to make defensive plays like he did with 14.2 seconds remaining on Monday. Noticing that Nets’ guard Caris LeVert had cut behind teammate Terrence Ross, Gordon left his man and swatted LeVert’s layup at the rim to preserve a two-point Orlando lead.

``It was winning time,’’ said Gordon, who came into Wednesday having averaged 18.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 46.1 percent from the floor and 40.9 percent from 3-point range in his last 10 games. ``You’re not supposed to help off the strong-side corner, but you’ve got to make a play. I was the last man there and I was able to read the game and see what I could do.’’

Said Magic defensive specialist Michael Carter-Williams, of Gordon’s block: ``That was unreal, just a great play. Coming from, not even his man to help out and make a defensive play that helped us win the game, that was really big for us.’’

TUSSLING WITH TRAE: In addition to his dynamic abilities as a scorer and a playmaker, Atlanta point guard Trae Young gives foes fits with his ability to stretch defenses out to almost unimaginable distances. This season, Young has made 21 of 66 shots (31.6 percent) from 30-34 feet out from the rim, seven of 15 shots (46.7 percent) from 35-39 feet and he sank his only heave from 40-or-more feet.

``What he does, because he’s such a great range shooter, he does the number one thing that you need on offense – he creates space for all his teammates,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``Spacing is the basic tenant of offense and he’s such a great shooter that he gives their offense that all by himself. That makes it hard on opponents.’’

Young came into Wednesday averaging 34 points, 9.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in two games this season against the Magic. For the season, he’s averaging 29.9 points (third in the NBA) and 9.2 assists (second in the NBA). He’s trying to become just the second Atlanta player in franchise history to average at least 30 point a game for a season with Dominique Wilkins having done it twice before (30.7 in 1987-88 and 30.3 in 1985-86).

``He’s a great player, he’s an all-star in this league and we’ve got to get out on him on his shots,’’ Carter-Williams. ``We have to try to make him play in the mid-range area and make him take tough shots. We can turn him over a little bit if we get in the right positions, but he can definitely hurt you because he’s a really good player.’’

JORDAN’S MESSAGE: Hall of Famer Michael Jordan let his emotions flow on Monday when he spoke glowingly of Kobe Bryant’s drive and determination when he spoke at the Laker legend’s ``Celebration of Life’’ ceremony in Los Angeles.

Clifford, who worked for Jordan for five years while the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets from 2013-18, wasn’t surprised to see the six-time champion express his emotions the way that he did. Among the many lessons that he took away from Jordan – the owner of the Hornets – Clifford said one of the primary ones was Jordan’s expectation that players and coaches not be shy about putting in work. That willingness to work at their craft was one of the things that bonded Jordan and Bryant.

``Michael would tell the guys, `You’re paid to play 82 games,’ and that’s it,’’ Clifford recalled. ``He’d say, `You’re expected to practice every day, we’re not sitting out here and if there’s a back-to-back, you’re expected to play both nights.’ (Jordan) set the tone for that, and as a coach, it made everything easier.

``Two guys who we had there (Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb) made great gains (in Charlotte),’’ Clifford continued. ``Earlier this year when we were in Indiana, (Pacers head coach) Nate (McMillan) said to me, `I love Lamb because he practices every day and he never wants to take a day off.’ There (in Indiana), that’s a big deal too, because of (former Pacers’ president) Larry (Bird) and I told (McMillan), `It’s because of Michael (Jordan).’

``Then, the first time that we played the (Boston) Celtics, (head coach) Brad (Stevens) was like, `Kemba is unbelievable,’’’ Clifford added. ``Well, those (former Charlotte players) don’t know any other way. You can call that tough love or whatever, but in my opinion, it’s so important to the players that the expectations are set early for how often you practice and how hard you work at the game. … Guys like Michael, who I have a friendship with for life, grew up that way. Those guys like him were old-school and they expected work.’’

UP NEXT: As is often the case after the week-long break for the NBA All-Star Game, the schedule is about to pick up for the Magic with games coming in rapid-fire succession in the coming days.

The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Friday night to host the Minnesota Timberwolves, the one team in the NBA that they have yet to face this season.

Orlando will fly out later that night for San Antonio, where it will play the Spurs on Saturday. The Magic beat the Spurs at the Amway Center on Nov. 15 in a game in which they wiped out a 16-point deficit before winning. Prior to Monday’s rally from 19 back in Brooklyn, the defeat of San Antonio was the biggest come-from-behind victory this season.

Back-to-backs have not been kind to the Magic this season with them going a combined 5-13 in games played on consecutive nights. The second games in those scenarios have been especially problematic as the Magic have dropped eight of nine games.

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.