Amid Individual Excellence, Magic Players Only Focused On Team Success

by John Denton

ORLANDO – A couple of reasons why the Orlando Magic have been so good on the road and good at coming back late in games, guard Terrence Ross said, is because of the togetherness and trust among the players on the team.

That togetherness and trust was on display again recently when Ross – Orlando’s strongest substitute all season – was asked about his chances of winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

``It would be nice to win. Everything happens when we win,’’ said Ross, who came into Wednesday posting career highs in scoring (14.5), field goal percentage (45.6 percent) and 3-point shooting accuracy (41 percent). ``Actually, I’m more excited about (teammate Nikola Vucevic) trying to get this all-star (bid). The one thing that us as a team can do to help him get there is win games. Once you start winning, the acknowledgements start falling in place. All we have to do is win and (Vucevic) will be an all-star.’’

Simply hearing Ross’ words were flattering to Vucevic, who is in his eighth NBA season and is also posting some of the best numbers of his career. Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on the Magic, has already heard from fans on social media that he is deserving to be an All-Star this season, but it means more to him coming from a teammate such as Ross.

``That’s awesome, I appreciate that he said that, and I didn’t know he said it,’’ Vucevic said. ``People have been asking me about (making the all-star team), but I think it’s very early to talk about it. The most important thing is to keep building this thing and getting wins. That’s when players will start getting individual honors.’’

Vucevic, who is posting career highs in scoring (20.9 points), assists (3.8 assists), field goal shooting (55.1 percent), 3-point percentage (40.8 percent) and free throw percentage (83.3 percent), has good reason to be leery. He seemed to be on track to make the NBA All-Star Game in 2016, especially after the Magic opened that season 19-13. However, Orlando went 2-12 in January of 2016 and 2-4 in the February games prior to the all-star break, souring his chances.

``My only focus is to keep playing well and the more we win, the more we will get as players,’’ Vucevic added. ``The more I think about (playing in the NBA All-Star Game) the more it will just be a distraction.’’

POWER FORWARD TANDEM: Steve Clifford continues to say that one of the advantages that the Magic have over foes is that they are able to have a versatile and elite defender on the floor for all 48 minutes with Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac on the roster.

The Miami Heat were the latest opponent to learn that as both Gordon and Isaac played well in Tuesday’s 105-90 victory in south Florida. At times late in that game, Clifford even played the two of them together so that the Magic could ramp up the intensity on the defensive end of the floor.

With the Magic down by seven early in the second half, Gordon got going and ignited the Magic on both ends of the floor. He had a blocked shot and a steal and 16 of his 20 points in the third quarter. Then, Isaac finished off the Heat in the fourth period, totaling six points, three rebounds and a steal over the final 12 minutes of the victory.

``It’s just about our size, length and being able to run the floor,’’ said Isaac, who played a career-most 31.5 minutes on Tuesday. ``(The Isaac-Gordon combination) been great so far and I can’t wait for it to continue to blossom and grow.’’

Added Gordon: ``We just picked it up on the defensive end. When we can get stops and can play in the open court, that allows us to be really aggressive.’’

MALONE NOT SURPRISED BY CLIFFORD’S SUCCESS: Clifford has known Denver coach Mike Malone since the latter was a fourth-grader participating in a basketball camp where a then-teenaged Clifford was coaching in Waterville, Maine. Clifford calls Malone’s father, Brendan Malone, ``one of my true mentors’’ and he said working on the coaching staff with Brendan in Orlando from 2007-12 was ``one of the greatest thrills that I’ve had in the NBA.’’

Michael often played for Clifford as a young camper and for decades he’s admired his acumen as a coach. Malone, who brought Denver into Orlando on Wednesday sitting atop the Western Conference and riding a six-game winning streak, said it’s come as no surprise to him that the Magic have played some of their best basketball in years with Clifford at the helm.

``He was the only coach at that camp who was willing to coach me year after year, so that speaks to his patience and his ability to get through to hard-headed players. So, I’ve got a lot of love for him,’’ Malone said.

``I know full-well that he’ll get this team back in the playoffs in no time,’’ Malone predicted. ``Steve Clifford did a great job in Charlotte, but with the NBA business, change is inevitable. He’ll do a great job down here (in Orlando) because he is a teacher, a coach, he’s got patience and he can relate to these players and you can see that these guys have already bought in to his style of play and what he’s preaching. I’m definitely rooting for (Clifford) and his team 80 times a year.’’

UP NEXT: After a taxing road/home back-to-back set of games in Miami and at home Wednesday against Denver, the Magic will get an off day on Thursday.

The Magic will be action next on Friday night when they face the Indiana Pacers at the Amway Center. Indiana has dominated the series of late against the Magic, winning 14 of the last 15 meetings and 18 of 20 since 2013. The Magic’s last win against Indiana came in March of 2016 and their last victory against the Pacers in Orlando was back on Feb. 9, 2014.

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.