Clifford Adds Simmons to Starting Lineup Against Warriors

by John Denton

OAKLAND – Jonathon Simmons didn’t sulk when he was out of the Orlando Magic’s rotation recently, and when he got his chance to make a difference on Sunday in Los Angeles, he took advantage of it in a big way.

Now two games after playing only in mop-up duty, Simmons is not only back in the Magic’s regular rotation, but also in their starting lineup.

Magic coach Steve Clifford made the decision to promote Simmons to the starting lineup on Monday against Golden State after the way that he played in Sunday’s second half – one that ultimately helped the Magic defeat the Los Angeles Lakers.

Simmons replaced Wes Iwundu early in Sunday’s game and then opened the second half in the starting five as well. Orlando outscored L.A. 35-19 in the third quarter and Simmons played a role in that by scoring four points, grabbing two rebounds and handing out an assist in the period. Overall, he had 10 points, four rebounds and four assists and the Magic were a plus-seven in his 25 minutes on the floor.

``Watching the film, outside of (Nikola Vucevic), I thought he was our best player (on Sunday) because he made the biggest impact,’’ Clifford said of Simmons. ``It was with his energy, he got us going in transition, he had a couple of cutting baskets and then he did it with his defense.’’

Following an offseason in which he needed surgery on his right wrist, Simmons has seen his production and efficiency dip – he’s averaged 7.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game while shooting just 32.1 percent from the floor. Simmons has said that his wrist still bothers him when he hits the floor and has to brace himself from contact with the floor.

Simmons said he wasn’t about to let a one-game demotion distract his focus from making an impact on Sunday’s game.

``I’ve already been through way worse things than not playing a couple of games or (being out of) the rotation,’’ said Simmons, who had to deal with the death of a family member earlier in the season. ``It was just about staying positive and keeping these guys up who were playing.’’

In time, the Magic could ultimately move second-year forward Jonathan Isaac into the starting lineup once his minutes’ restriction is lifted. Or they could stick with Simmons or go back to Iwundu. Clifford said he is simply looking for ways that the Magic can better sustain their good play for longer stretches.

``We need them all to be good,’’ Clifford said. ``I’m not joking about that. We don’t have that kind of team where like three guys can play well. We need … if nine or 10 are going to play, we need seven or eight of them every night to play well. That’s just the nature of our team. We need (Simmons) and a few others to play well every night too.’’

VUCEVIC HOPING HE WON’T MISS TIME: Considering the high level in which Vucevic has consistently played thus far this season, the Magic understandably don’t want to contemplate any time without their dominant 7-footer on the floor.

If all goes according to plan, the Magic won’t have to do that at all when Vucevic’s wife, Nikoleta, delivers the couple’s first child in a matter of weeks.

Vucevic, Orlando’s leading scorer (20.4 ppg.) and rebounder (11.3 rpg) this season, and his wife are expecting a son in mid-December. Vucevic said recently that doctors are projecting that the baby will be born on a day when the Magic aren’t scheduled to play. However, as Vucevic knows even though he’s about to become a first-time father, nature could dramatically change those plans. He has said he has every intention of being by his wife’s side for the birth of his child – even if he must miss a game.

``(The due date) isn’t until we get back from Mexico City,’’ said Vucevic, referring to the Magic’s games against the Chicago Bulls (Dec. 13) and Utah Jazz (Dec. 15) in Mexico City. ``But they did say that the baby is ahead of schedule, so I guess it could come before then, I guess.’’

Vucevic said his fears of being away from home this week during Orlando’s five-game, nine-night trip to the West Coast were put to rest when Nikoleta’s parents flew into Orlando to stay with the mother-to-be. That peace of mind allowed Vucevic to play well as he battered the Los Angeles Lakers for 31 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks on Sunday as the Magic swept L.A. for just the second time in the franchise’s 30 seasons.

Vucevic has posted the kinds of numbers that should put him in consideration for a berth into the NBA All-Star Game, which would be a first in his NBA career. However, Vucevic has been down this path before, posting stellar individual number early in the season only to see his Magic struggle in January and February to short-circuit his all-star dreams. He said that his only focus is on helping the Magic rack up victories and the all-star talk will materialize if he and the Magic keep up the success that they have both had so far.

``All I’m focused on is us getting wins,’’ Vucevic said. ``Then, the rest will take care of itself.’’

FINALE AT ORACLE ARENA? With the exception of a potential run to the NBA Finals opposite the Golden State Warriors in June, the Magic’s busses crawled through San Francisco rush-hour traffic, across the Bay Bridge and into Oakland for the final time on Monday.

The Warriors, champions of the NBA in three of the past four years and each of the last two seasons, are set to move into the Chase Center on San Francisco’s East Bay next season. The Chase Center, which was privately financed by the Warriors, will feature 44 suites, 32 courtside lounges, 60 theater boxes and a rooftop restaurant with views out onto the bay.

Like most NBA teams, the Magic have stayed in San Francisco for years and bussed across the bay into Oakland before games. That strategy has worked well for Orlando as it went into Monday’s final game at Oracle Arena with a 13-17 record against the Warriors in the Bay Area. Those 13 road victories are the second most against any other Western Conference team, trailing only the 14 games that the Magic have won in Minnesota.

Fate hasn’t been kind to the Magic of late in the Bay Area as the Warriors have risen to power. Orlando came into Monday having lost its last five games in Oracle Arena and not winning there since Dec. 3, 2012. That losing streak included the Dec. 2, 2014 game in which eventual MVP Stephen Curry hit a game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds to beat the Magic 98-97.

UP NEXT: After facing the Lakers on Sunday and the Warriors on Monday, the Magic will be off on Tuesday. The team was scheduled to fly from Oakland to Portland following Monday’s game.

The Magic will face the Blazers at the Moda Center on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Florida). The Trail Blazers won 128-114 in Orlando on Oct.25 after all-star guard Damian Lillard scored 34 of his 41 points in the second half.

Orlando closes its five-game, nine-night road trip to the West Coast on Friday in Phoenix (9 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Florida).

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.