ORLANDO – Like many of his teammates gritting their way through Wednesday’s off-day practice, shooting guard Rodney Purvis logged big minutes on Tuesday night in a game that was tight well into the fourth quarter and featured a close finish.
The only difference was that Purvis was helping the Lakeland Magic to a big G League victory a night earlier, while the Orlando Magic were still trying to figure out what went wrong in a foul fourth quarter of a loss to the East-leading Toronto Raptors.
By virtue of the Magic’s G League franchise being in nearby Lakeland for the first time, players such as Purvis – and also small forward Jamel Artis on Tuesday – have been able to easily shuttle back and forth between the NBA and G League all season long. Purvis and Artis, for example, practiced in Orlando on Monday, played in Lakeland on Tuesday night and returned to the Amway Center on Wednesday to practice with the Magic again. Sure, it’s a lot of time spent in Interstate-4’s sometimes treacherous traffic, but Purvis and Artis are enjoying the basketball opportunities provided to them.
``I enjoy it all and I just like playing basketball,’’ said Purvis, who was one of the last players off the practice court on Wednesday while competing in a shooting drill with Aaron Gordon, Marreese Speights and Terrence Ross. ``I don’t care if I’ve got to go and play a game there (in Lakeland) and come back here (to Orlando) and practice, it doesn’t matter to me. I just love playing the game of basketball, I love the (Magic) organization and the people around it.’’
Purvis and Artis both scored 20 points on Tuesday as Lakeland gutted out a 120-118 defeat of the Long Island Nets. That victory was significant as it allowed Lakeland (26-22) to move into a first-place tie with the Erie Bayhawks atop the Southeast Division. Also, Lakeland moved into a fifth-place tie with Long Island in the Eastern Conference. Lakeland, which has two games remaining against the last-place Delaware 87ers on Friday and Saturday, is hoping to win its way into the G League playoffs as either a division winner or a top-six team in the East.
In Orlando, the Magic are in no such playoff race, largely, because of games like the one on Tuesday at the Amway Center. The Magic shot 48 percent from the floor in the first three quarters and led by as many as 11 points in the third quarter before falling flat in the fourth. Orlando missed its first 11 shots of the final period and could only look on as Toronto steamrolled its way to a 93-86 victory.
``We missed several shots at the rim,’’ said Magic coach Frank Vogel after having the benefit of looking at the video footage of the fourth-quarter meltdown. ``We had four or five drives at the rim and there were three put-backs that we missed. They were contested, but they’re plays that you’ve got to make if you want to win.’’
Bouncing back and forth between Orlando and Lakeland has allowed players such as Purvis and Artis to learn valuable NBA lessons while also playing major roles on a G League team in a playoff race. Purvis and Artis are expected to be in uniform for Orlando (21-50) on Thursday night when they host the Philadelphia 76ers (39-30) at the Amway Center. The two will likely return to Polk County over the weekend to help Lakeland with its playoff push over the final two regular-season games.
``It would be huge for the first year of the Lakeland Magic to be able to be able to be in the playoffs,’’ said Purvis, who made eight of 16 shots and three of five threes in Lakeland’s win on Tuesday. ``It’s a very tight (playoff) run and it’s a very challenging league throughout the ups and downs. But (Lakeland) has weathered every storm and they just came off a great road trip. It’d be huge to make the playoffs and actually make a run in the playoffs.’’
Purvis, a 6-foot-4 guard, signed his second 10-day contract with the Magic last weekend and he’s shown an ability to score that might allow his to stick with the NBA club for the remainder of the season. Artis, a 6-foot-7 forward, is designated as one of the Magic’s ``two-way’’ players, meaning the squad can have him up at the NBA level for a set number of days during the season.
Thus far, Purvis has played 57 minutes in five NBA games, making six of his 16 shots and two of 10 3-pointers. Artis has played 55 minutes in five games, making four of 17 shots and missing all five of his threes. Vogel has been impressed with Artis’ 6-foot-7, 215-pound frame and hopes he can be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor for the Magic.
``Just getting the call from the Magic was exciting because this is where I’ve always wanted to be,’’ said Artis, who has averaged 19.5 points while shooting 45.8 percent from the floor in 45 G League games. ``For me, it’s just about getting in here and learning every day and do my preparation before the games. I’m learning every day and we’ve got a few games left so I want to try and make a quick impact.’’
The only challenges that Purvis and Artis have encountered so far as they’ve bounced back and forth between Lakeland and Orlando is that neither has a vehicle with them in Florida. Both live strategically in Haines City – one of the cities in between Polk County and Orange County along I-4 – and they’ve been able to occasionally get free rides from Lakeland Magic GM Anthony Parker and others.
``We take turns Uber-ing because neither one of us has a car down here right now,’’ Purvis said with a laugh. ``Guys help us out a lot as far as rides. And there are some guys here in Orlando who work in Lakeland, so they help us out, too. We’ve just been using Uber from the gym to the hotel, which is cheaper and that’s the one we’ve been using.’’
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