Clifford Plans to Extend Minutes of Regular Rotation Players in Miami

by John Denton

ORLANDO – After two preseason games where the Orlando Magic focused primarily on basics and getting playing time for most of their roster, tonight’s game against the Miami Heat will should more closely resemble the structure of a regular-season game.

That could prove to be highly beneficial to the Magic considering that they open the regular season against the rival Heat at the Amway Center on Oct. 17.

Magic coach Steve Clifford said he plans to extend the minutes of his regular rotation players tonight when Orlando (1-1) faces Miami (0-3) at American Airlines Arena. In Orlando’s loss to Philadelphia and its defeat of Flamengo-Brazil, no Magic player was on the floor more than 28 minutes by design.

Tonight, projected starters Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and D.J. Augustin could play as many as 30-32 minutes. That same could apply to home games on Wednesday (against Memphis) and Friday (versus San Antonio) as the Magic wrap up the preseason.

``We’re going to play our guys a little more,’’ said Clifford, who was hired in late May as the Magic’s new head coach. ``Whereas last week, in the Philadelphia game and everybody played and our practices on Wednesday and Thursday were really demanding. This week, we’re going to use the three games to do more and the two practices will be more of teaching and introduction.’’

Clifford said second-year forward Wes Iwundu – a likely starter tonight for a second straight game – has been a pleasant surprise thus far in training camp. The coach is high on Iwundu gaining a role in the regular rotation because of his positional versatility, his passing ability and his basketball smarts.

``The guy who is playing well, we play well when he’s on the floor, he’s very bright organizationally and in terms of basketball IQ and has made a strong argument as to why he’s ready to play a bigger role is Wes,’’ Clifford said. ``Not just in the games, but practice, he’s the one (playing well). His numbers haven’t been great, but his play has been. You can always win in this league with guys who give you a chance to execute at both ends of the floor, and that’s what I see in him.’’

For a second straight game, the Magic will be without forward Jonathan Isaac (sprained ankle), Terrence Ross (sore foot) and Timofey Mozgov (dislocated finger). Isaac, who turned his ankle last Monday after accidentally stepping on the foot of Philadelphia forward Dario Saric, went through most of Sunday’s practice and could be a full-go participant at Tuesday’s team workout.

Rookie center Mohamed Bamba will also be in line for more minutes after playing especially well in the first two preseason games. Bamba, the No. 6 overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, is averaging 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks a game on 75 percent shooting from the floor. Additionally, he’s made all four of his 3-point shots in two games to keep defenses off balance.

``I’m very much comfortable (with the 3-point shot) and it’s not something that came overnight,’’ said Bamba, who worked most of the offseason to change his hand placement and form and to speed up his shot release. ``This is something that I’ve had to work up to to get this comfortable. … I don’t know if there could be a number on (the number of threes attempted over the summer), but every day in the morning session of post moves, conditioning and different basketball stuff and at night we’d just shoot 500 to 1,000 jump shots.’’

Clifford raved about his team’s focus in practice last week and that intensity carried over to Friday’s game when the Magic thumped Brazilian powerhouse Flamengo 119-82. Orlando shot better than 60 percent most of the night, drilled 10 3-pointers and led by as much as 43 points. Their ball movement was especially crisp too as the Magic racked up 28 assists on 44 made baskets.
The going will likely be more difficult against a Miami squad that has designs on making a deep playoff run in what will be legendary guard Dwyane Wade’s final season.

The Heat will open their regular season in Orlando next week for a third straight season. Miami won the season-opening showdown in 2016, while Orlando was victorious last October. Clifford said the Magic can use tonight’s game to work on plenty of areas that need addressing and glean plenty of information about the Heat.

``Our defensive transition (defense) is not nearly good enough and that’s why playing Miami is good because they will make you pay,’’ Clifford said. ``It will still have the basic characteristics of how they are going to play. They’re great to play in preseason because they don’t beat themselves, they don’t give possessions away and they’re going to be very purposeful in the way that they play offensively and defensively. It’s a great opportunity to learn about where you’re at.’’

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