By John Denton Jan. 27, 2018
INDIANAPOLIS – While many members of the Orlando Magic are delighted that former teammate Victor Oladipo is happy and thriving with the Indiana Pacers, they don’t want to see the all-star guard have further success tonight.
When the Magic (14-33) face the Pacers (26-23) tonight in Indianapolis, Orlando will be trying to end a six-game skid against Indiana. The last two losses have come this season and Oladipo has played a starring role against his former team.
``I’m so, so, so happy for Victor. He’s worked so hard and he’s so talented and skilled and he really deserves this,’’ Magic forward Aaron Gordon said. ``He’s back in his comfort zone in Indiana and I’m so proud that everything worked out for him. I miss playing with him for sure, but we’re going to beat him. That’s really what it all comes down to.’’
Oladipo, the No. 2 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Magic, spent his first three seasons in Orlando before being dealt to Oklahoma City on draft night in 2016. He was traded again this past summer – this time to the Pacers and he has helped Indiana become one of the NBA’s surprise teams this season. Oladipo, who had 25 points on Friday in a loss to Cleveland, has averaged 24.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game this season while shooting 48.4 percent from the floor and 40.1 percent from 3-point range to earn his first all-star game appearance.
Oladipo never shot better than 43.8 percent from the floor or 34.8 percent from 3-point range in his three seasons with Magic. He’s certainly played with an edge against the Magic, leading the Pacers to a 105-97 victory on Nov. 20 and a 121-109 win on Nov. 27. In those two games, Oladipo is a plus-43 on the scoreboard while on the floor for a combined 67 minutes.
In the first meeting between the Magic and the Pacers at the Amway Center, Oladipo stuffed the stat sheet with 29 points, nine rebounds, seven steals and five assists. In the second meeting, he made his first 11 shots, scored 26 points, grabbed six rebounds, handed out five assists and drilled four 3-pointers. In the two games, he’s averaging 27.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.5 steals while making 19 of 33 shots (57.5 percent) and five of eight (62.5 percent) from 3-point range.
``I think it started with him changing his body this offseason,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``There was a lot written and posted about him really changing his body and he became stronger and more athletic. He was always a natural athlete, but you can always fine-tune some things. So, he became a different player just by doing that.
``Like Aaron (Gordon) and Elfrid (Payton), over time, his 3-point shooting has grown,’’ Vogel continued. ``His ability to hit the 3-ball – not just in catch-and-shoot situations, but off the bounce – that’s the biggest thing to me. You have to really get up on him and honor (the 3-point threat) and bring two of the basketball high, which sets up their whole offense with (Myles) Turner and (Domantas) Sabonis rolling to the basket. So, it all starts with (Oladipo).’’
Vogel, who conducted the Magic’s shoot-around session on Saturday morning despite battling a bad cold, has yet to beat his former team since joining the Magic. Vogel was Indiana’s head coach from 2011-16, leading the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014. While admittedly a bit nostalgic every time he returns to Indiana, Vogel’s focus is on trying to help the Magic get a much-needed victory tonight against the Pacers.
After playing well in wins against Minnesota and Boston last week, the Magic took a big step back on Tuesday in an ugly loss to Sacramento. Vogel is hopeful that his team responds with a much better effort tonight against Oladipo and the Pacers.
``We’ve been playing good basketball, but the Sacramento game was a huge disappointment,’’ Vogel said. ``For three quarters, we had an 11-point lead. If we close that game out, we’re sitting on a three-out-of-four stretch against some good basketball teams. So, we’ve just got to put that fourth quarter (from Tuesday) behind us and play with that same positive energy and enthusiasm that we’ve been playing with and get a (win).’’
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