Fournier, Magic Teammates Touched by Lakers' Kobe Bryant Ceremony

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Life without Kobe Bryant is a new sort of normal for NBA players who have dedicated their lives to basketball, and for Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier there is still a high level of shock over the Los Angeles Lakers legend’s tragic death.

Like many of his NBA brethren, Fournier tuned in to watch the Lakers’ tribute ceremony for the fallen five-time champion on Friday prior to the Lakers-Timberwolves game. There were several musical tributes and forward LeBron James cast away his notes and gave an impassioned speech from the heart about the influence that Bryant had on his life.

While admittedly being moved by the ceremony, Fournier said that it’s been difficult to get Bryant’s death off his mind in recent days because of the flood of coverage on television and social media.

``It was beautiful,’’ Fournier said of the Friday night tribute to Bryant, his daughter and the others who perished in the helicopter crash last Sunday. ``I’m a player, so I thought about the guys on the court and how it must have been really hard for them to wait 25 minutes of standing and then going out there to play with all that emotion. It was a beautiful tribute, but it still doesn’t feel like it’s real.

``It’s different for everyone (grieving with the shocking death),’’ Fournier added. ``I’m actually doing pretty good, but there are reminders everywhere. As soon as you’re on Twitter or Instagram, it’s out there and as soon as you watch TV, it’s out there. It’s going to take a while and it’s not going to feel right for a while for sure.’’

As he has done most of his career, Fournier has worn the Bryant-modeled Nike shoes during games. On Sunday, just hours after the helicopter carrying Bryant, 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others crashed near Calabasas, Calif., Fournier wore black and gold Nikes similar to the ones that Bryant wore late in his career. On Monday in Miami, Fournier wore a Bryant-modeled Nike that was trimmed in purple. His reasoning for wearing the Bryant-modeled shoes? Partly, because of his fiery competitive nature and partly as a tribute to the late, great Bryant.

``The thing is I’m with Nike and I don’t want to wear any other player’s shoe. No Giannis or LeBron – I’m not going to wear those, and it narrows what you can wear,’’ Fournier said. ``But with the Kobe’s, who cares because Kobe is Kobe. You can wear his shoe because it’s Kobe. They look great, the feel great and it represents something.’’

DEFENSE-FIRST MINDSET: To ram home his point about his team’s need for improved defense, Magic head coach Steve Clifford met with his team’s analytics department to gather some info to present to his players.

Clifford learned that in Orlando’s first eight games of January – a 6-2 stretch capped by the Magic’s stunning victory over the Lakers – the team ranked first in the NBA in defensive rating (100.6 points allowed per 100 possessions). However, in Orlando’s seven games from Jan. 16-31, it went just 1-6 largely because its defensive rating jumped significantly (114.3 points per 100 possessions) and that rating plunged to 23rdin the NBA.

``We’ve got to get back to defending,’’ Clifford said. ``If we’re going to become the team that we need to be here in this next stretch – February, March and April, it’s going to start with being a great defensive team.’’

SECOND 10-DAY CONTRACT: Gary Clark, one of the heroes of the win over the Lakers earlier in the month, is back with the Magic after signing a second 10-day contract with the franchise on Wednesday.

Though he played well not long after signing the first 10-day contract – he had 10 points, four rebounds, two 3-pointers and a blocked shot in the game against the Lakers just a day after signing with the Magic – Clark said he feels much more prepared for what the team is trying to do schematically on offense and defense now. Clark’s first 10-day contract expired on Jan. 23 and even though he didn’t sign his second 10-day deal until Wednesday, he spent much of those four days off studying up on the Magic’s plays because he thought he had a strong chance of returning to the team.

``This time, I was able to spend more time learning everything, from offense to defense in the times of waiting and knowing I had a hot chance of coming back and now I’m more knowledgeable in terms of schemes and things that we do,’’ Clark said. ``In the first 10-day it was hard to get as much information as I could, but this time I feel really confident.’’

Clark, a versatile 6-foot-6 forward, averaged 4.0 points and 3.6 rebounds in 13.7 minutes a night over five games of his first stint with the Magic.

``He’s smart, he can shoot the ball, he was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in his (collegiate) conference, so he’s got a defensive mentality and we just want more time to watch him,’’ Clifford said of Clark. ``He jumped in here and we were playing so much that there were no practices. So, it was hard for him. But in the games that he played, he did a good job. You can switch (defensively) with him and he can guard quicker guys, so a lot of it (with Clark’s future) will play out as we go forward.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic will spend a big chunk of Super Bowl Sunday on the road as the team will depart in the afternoon for Charlotte, where it will face the Southeast Division-rival Hornets on Monday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

The Magic defeated the Hornets 106-83 in Charlotte on Jan. 20 in the final game of a 12-night road trip. In that game, Terrence Ross (19 points and five 3-pointers) helped dig the Magic out of an early 11-point deficit and Fournier (26 points) and Nikola Vucevic (24 points and 10 rebounds) did the rest in a run-away second half.

Monday’s game is the first of a three-game road trip for the Magic. Orlando will face the Celtics in Boston on Wednesday and the Knicks in New York on Thursday. The Magic are 0-1 this season against the Celtics and 1-0 versus the Knicks.

Back-to-back sets of games haven’t been particularly kind to Orlando this season. The Magic are 5-11 in games played on consecutive nights – 4-4 on the first night and 1-7 on the second night.

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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