Aaron Gordon Has No Animosity Toward Derrick Jones Jr.

by John Denton

MIAMI – Even though the Dunk Contest battle was epic, the final result was highly contentious, and the ultimate champion has recently had a few disparaging words, Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon said he has nothing but respect for Derrick Jones Jr. and the show that the Miami Heat forward put on last month.

The two finalists in February’s electrifying dunk contest met on Wednesday night for the first time since the event that left much of the basketball word buzzing with intrigue and, in some instances, anger over the controversial result.

Despite opening the contest with five straight perfect-score dunks, the 24-year-old Gordon was edged out by Jones Jr. for the dunk title. Adding to Gordon’s frustration was the fact that it was his second runner-up finish in the dunk contest in four years.

The fact that Heat legend Dwyane Wade, who once played alongside of Jones Jr. in Miami, was one of the judges on the panel and gave Gordon a head-scratching score on the final jam of the night only added to the drama of the event. However, Gordon said the controversy surrounding the finish to the dunk contest did nothing to lessen his respect for the show that Jones Jr. put on in Chicago.

``This is a brotherhood and we’re all pushing for the betterment of the league, the betterment of our teams and the betterment of our careers,’’ Gordon said of the relationship with Jones Jr., who has been somewhat critical of Gordon’s dunk over 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall in recent weeks. ``Ain’t no bad blood at all. That’s a good dude and he’s got bounce, so I respect him. Not even a little bit (of animosity). I’m happy for D-Jones, man.’’

Jones recently defended his victory in the dunk contest, saying that Gordon couldn’t have possibly beaten him with his flawed execution of his final dunk while trying to hurdle 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, the former UCF center who is now a two-way player for the Boston Celtics.

``I knew (Gordon) jumping over Tacko was going to be something big because Tacko is arguably one of the biggest fan-favorite players in the league and I knew that was going to get the crowd (involved),’’ Jones Jr. recently told 5ReasonsSports. ``I told (Gordon), if he had cleared (Fall) without touching him, I’d have gave him the trophy even if they gave it to me. … But he landed on his neck and I can’t give you that. Y’all gave me a 47 for jumping over (6-9 Heat teammate) Bam (Adebayo) and y’all give him a 48 for jumping over Tacko and landing on his neck? That don’t make no sense to me.’’

Magic guard Terrence Ross, the 2013 Slam Dunk Contest winner, defended his teammate, saying: ``I mean, like, only reason people are still talking about (the Dunk Contest) is because people felt like Aaron got robbed. If everybody had felt like Derrick won it outright, then we’d have been past it already.’’

GETTING DEFENSIVE: While he’s plenty happy about the offensive progress that the Magic have made in recent weeks, head coach Steve Clifford went to the numbers to ram home his point to the team about its slippage on the defensive end of the floor in recent weeks. For the Magic to not only make the playoffs but climb to the No. 7 seed and potentially be a factor once in the postseason, the Magic must reverse their recent trends defensively, Clifford said.

The NBA’s top team in terms of points allowed per game before the break for the NBA All-Star Game (105.4 points per game), the Magic have plunged to 27th(120.7 points per game) in the six games since the break. Also, they have seen their defensive rating go from seventh before the break (107.4 points per 100 possessions) to 28thafter the break (117.7 points per 100 possessions).

Clifford, who guided the Magic to the playoffs in his first season back in Orlando as head coach mostly on the strength of the squad’s defense, knows the squad must get back to a defense-first mentality to repeat the feat this spring. His hope is that the Magic will deliver a high-level defensive performance tonight against the rival Heat at American Airlines Arena in Miami.

``I think we’re 23rdnow in defense over the last 10 games and that’s just not going to work,’’ Clifford said on the heels of the Magic getting shelled defensively in a 130-107 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday. ``If we want to be a playoff team and playing in a manner where we can be a factor (in the postseason), we’ve got to start defending.’’

ELITE CLOSERS: Despite their up and down play much of the season, the Magic have been consistently strong when they take the lead into the fourth quarter.

Orlando headed into Wednesday’s game with a stellar 22-2 record when it is either tied or leading after three periods. That’s the NBA’s second-best record when either leading or tied after three periods, trailing only Milwaukee’s 48-1. The Los Angeles Lakers are 40-0 when leading after three periods, but their record falls to 41-3 when including the four games where they have been tied to start the final period.

More than anything, veteran center Nikola Vucevic said, the Magic’s success when taking the lead into the fourth is a product of how much better the squad plays while ahead than when trailing.

``That makes a big difference, especially when you start a game right and you get on top of the other team, it helps you be more relaxed,’’ Vucevic said. ``When you are behind, you have to work so much harder and your margin for error is so much smaller. But when you are in front, the pressure is on the other team and you have a cushion to play with. It’s mostly a mental thing, which is normal. But for us, we haven’t started games well lately, digging ourselves a hole and it’s hurt us. But whenever you can get the lead early in the game, that always helps to play from ahead.’’

UP NEXT: Wednesday’s game in Miami was the start of a four-game road trip that will have the Magic zig-zagging throughout Florida, the Midwest, Southwest and Southeast. Orlando also plays in Minnesota (Friday), Houston (Sunday) and Memphis (Tuesday) on their last lengthy road trip of the season.

Minnesota was the final team in the NBA that the Magic faced this season, and now Orlando will play the Timberwolves twice in a week. Orlando rolled to a 136-125 win over Minnesota last Friday at the Amway Center behind Ross’ 33 points and the first triple-double of Gordon’s career (17 points, a career-best 12 assists and 11 rebounds).

Orlando is 38-22 all-time against Minnesota, which also entered the NBA during the 1989-90 season. The Magic are 14-15 all-time in Minneapolis.

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.

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