ORLANDO – While admitting that ``I definitely feel some type of way about’’ another controversial runner-up finish in the NBA Dunk Contest, Aaron Gordon said on Wednesday he was shifting his focus to the well-being of the Orlando Magic and promising to use the events of last weekend as fuel for the final 27 games of the regular season.
For a second time in four years, Gordon electrified the basketball world with an array of high-flying acrobatics only to finish second in the Dunk Contest at the NBA All-Star Weekend. Gordon controversially lost out in a ``dunk off’’ to Miami Heat small forward Derrick Jones Jr. despite posting five consecutive perfect scores of 50 during the early stages of the contest in Chicago.
On Wednesday, when Gordon and his Magic teammates returned to practice for the first time in more than a week, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward said he was looking forward at what was to come the rest of this season. Gordon, 24, said the fate of the 24-31 Magic matters much more to him now than whatever lingering bitterness that there might be over last weekend’s dunk contest.
``For sure, it’s definitely a test,’’ Gordon said of potentially using the dunk contest result as fuel for the rest of the season. ``I’m just looking to help my team. That’s what I want – I want us to be a great team and (give) ourselves and opportunity to win deep into the playoffs. That’s what it really comes down to.’’
Much like in 2016 when Gordon was the tough-luck loser to two-time champion Zach LaVine, Gordon has spent the past few days dealing with the fall out of an event he’s always thought he was destined to win at some point in his basketball career. In the subsequent four days since the Dunk Contest ended, Gordon has heard from countless numbers of fans, fellow NBA players and celebrities in the music and movie industries about a result they felt was wrong. That, in a weird and twisted sort of way, has helped to soothe Gordon’s disappointment over the results, he said.
``I definitely feel some type of way about it,’’ Gordon said while carefully choosing his words. ``I’m definitely kind of irritated a little bit and a little frustrated, as well.
``But it’s OK, it’s really OK,’’ he added. ``We’ve got to move on because it’s over now. I think it will be talked about for years and years and years, which is really cool. But at the same time, it’s over.’’
Fortunately for Gordon and the Magic, the season is anything but over for them despite an erratic first 55 games filled with injuries, shooting woes and plenty of ups and downs. Still, the Magic could be positioned for another strong finish what with the way things line up for them the rest of the way. Last season, the Magic won 21 of their final 30 games – and the last nine in a row at the Amway Center – to push their way into the playoffs.
This season, Orlando’s remaining 27 opponents have a combined winning percentage of just .464 – the third-worst in the NBA and the second-worst in the Eastern Conference. The Magic play 17 games against teams with losing records – a promising sign considering that they are 19-7 on the season against foes with losing marks.
As for the 25-28 Brooklyn Nets – which sit two games ahead of the Magic in the standings for the No. 7 spot – they are tied with Cleveland and Memphis for the most remaining road games (16). Brooklyn plays six of its first seven games after the break on the road with the exception being Monday’s game at Barclays Center against the Magic. The Nets, who lost earlier this season to the Magic in Orlando, also have difficult road games remaining against Milwaukee, Boston, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers.
``I don’t think anyone is thinking about last year because it’s two different dynamics and our dynamic this year is just different,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, referring to the likely season-ending injury to forward Jonathan Isaac (left knee sprain and bone bruise). ``We know that we can get on a run, obviously, and we know what we’re capable of. We just have to take one game at a time. It’s kind of cliché that say that, but it’s really the case with us.’’
The Magic will be back on the practice floor on Thursday before facing all-star guard Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on Friday at the Amway Center. The Mavs have been a significantly better team this season on the road (18-8) than they have been at home (15-14).
Beloved former Magic guard Darrell Armstrong, the only player in NBA history to win the Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year awards in the same season, will be inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame prior to Friday night’s game. Armstrong, who played for the Magic from 1994-2003, ranks second in franchise history in steals (830), third in assists (2,555), fifth in games played (502), sixth in 3-pointers made (654) and 10thin points scored (5,898).
Gordon, who is in his sixth season with the Magic, is hopeful that he will someday be considered as one of the greats in Orlando history. While undoubtedly his dunking exploits will be a part of his lasting legacy, Gordon wants to predominantly be remembered as a player who had a big impact on winning and taking the Magic deep into the playoffs.
Maybe it wasn’t surprising that Gordon had so much life and energy in last weekend’s Dunk Contest considering that he had been playing his best basketball of the season in the weeks leading up to the event. In his seven games prior to the All-Star Game break, Gordon averaged 19.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from 3-point range – big improvements over his production in December (14 games, 13.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 40.2 percent from the floor and 30.4 percent from 3-point range) and January (13 games, 13.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 45.1 percent from the floor and 27.1 percent from 3-point range).
Two of Gordon’s best all-around performances of the season came last week against Atlanta (26 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two 3-pointers) and Detroit (25 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and three 3-pointers) – both of which were Magic victories.
Sustaining that kind of play over the rest of the season and into the playoffs, Magic coach Steve Clifford said, could have Gordon at the NBA All-Star Weekend for a completely different reason next year.
``My hope for Aaron Gordon is that next year we’re talking about his All-Star appearance being as an All-Star,’’ Clifford said. ``To me, that’s special.’’
Gordon had plenty of opinions on Wednesday about his dunking performance, changes that need to be made to the contest rules and controversy involving the celebrity/former player judges of the contest.
Referring to his 360-degree dunk off a side-of-the-backboard feed from teammate Markelle Fultz, Gordon called it ``a great demonstration of athleticism and a great pass.’’
As for the dunk contest rules changes that he’d like to see, Gordon said: ``Maybe make it out of 100 instead of out of 10. And then (have it be) an accumulation of all the points and not just an accumulation of that last round. (Add) all of your dunks together and whoever has the most points in the end wins. That makes the most sense.’’
Referring to the dunk contest judges, who awarded Gordon a 47 even though he scaled 7-foot-5 center and former UCF product Tacko Fall for a two-handed slam, Gordon said: ``The judges are there for ratings. They’re not there to, like, really judge. I really appreciated them – Common, Candace (Parker), Scottie (Pippen), Chadwick (Boseman) and Dwyane (Wade). It’s not easy to be put in that position, to judge another person. So, I really appreciate them.’’
In the end, Gordon said his focus is now on helping the Magic win big in the days, weeks and months to come. Gordon’s goal, he said, is to ultimately be back at the NBA All-Star Weekend next year – albeit in the role of being an All-Star and not a just a dunk participant.
``While I was talking to the media after the Dunk Contest, I said that my next goal was the 3-Point Contest, but that’s not true,’’ said Gordon, who has averaged 14.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists over 49 games this season. ``I was just poking fun at (the disappointing results) and encouraging kids to chase your dreams like nothing is impossible. But that next goal is that big (All-Star) Game. Then, the Larry O’B (O’Brien championship trophy).’’
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