Magic Play With More Spirit and Energy in Preseason Finale

Postgame Report: Heat 107, Magic 98
by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO – Several hours before tipoff while addressing the media after morning shoot-around, Orlando Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford described what his message to the team was going into Thursday’s preseason finale against the Miami Heat.

“I just told the guys I want us to look more like the Magic,” he repeated to the media.

What that meant, essentially, was that he wanted his team to look more like the squad that won 22 of their final 31 games last season and their first three of this year’s preseason rather than the one that got smashed in their last two exhibition contests.

For stretches against the Heat, the message seemed to get through, especially at the beginning of the third quarter when the Magic built a seven-point lead. Other times, though, they weren’t nearly sharp enough, which allowed Miami to regain momentum and defeat Orlando, 107-98, at Amway Center.

“Tonight was a lot better than the last two games, night and day better,” Clifford said. “In terms of how we played tonight, in terms of what we tried to do, it’s not even close. Against Philadelphia, we didn’t get any good shots. Watching that was hard to watch. This (game), the ideas were good.”

The Magic were at their best when they were able to use their length and defensive versatility to force the Heat into turnovers, which helped get their offense going. Orlando scored 23 points off Miami’s 23 miscues, a statistical category the Magic expect to excel in this season.

“It’s the key for any team, especially for us,” said guard Evan Fournier, who returned after sitting out last game with back spasms. “We lead with our defense and the fact that you can get turnovers on blitzes, that (when) you get a rebound you can push the ball, you can get easy baskets. We all want easy baskets. It’s not just us. It’s the whole league really. Obviously, it’s a big part of the game right now.”

A big problem, like it was against the Celtics and Sixers, was turning the ball over themselves, which they did 22 times.

Having All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and two of the team’s other top offensive players, Fournier and Terrence Ross, back was encouraging, too. In 25 minutes, Vucevic posted 14 points and six rebounds after missing the last three games with an ankle injury. Fournier, meanwhile, scored 16 points and Ross, despite going 3-of-11 from the field and finishing with just seven points, gave Orlando a lift after missing last game with his own ankle sprain.

Healthy after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia last season, Mo Bamba had one of his best games of the preseason, tallying 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

Third-unit players for both teams were on the floor over the final several minutes of the fourth quarter, giving Clifford and Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra an opportunity to evaluate some of their unproven talent while giving their starters and key reserves extra rest.

The Magic will play their first regular season game on Wednesday, Oct. 23 against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers.

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