By John Denton Nov. 23, 2017
BOSTON – Evan Fournier hails from suburban Paris, and while there’s no real equivalent to the Thanksgiving holiday in the French culture, the Orlando Magic forward knows he has plenty to be thankful for considering that he has reached many of his childhood dreams of playing in the NBA.
Still, Fournier isn’t feeling too cheery or in the spirit of the season now considering the current plight of his Magic. After all, when you pour as much into your profession as Fournier does, life just isn’t too much fun when things are going unexpectedly poor.
``Right now, it’s just like a spiral because losing is bad,’’ a dejected Fournier said late Wednesday after the Magic (8-10) lost to Minnesota and dropped their sixth straight game. ``You wake up in the morning and you feel (sickly). Every time you watch the film session everybody is down. It’s just an awful feeling and I can’t wait to get a `W,’ man.’’
Orlando spent Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday traveling between Minnesota and Boston in anticipation of Friday’s game against the surging Celtics (16-3). The Magic were scheduled to have a turkey-and-fixings meal together in Beantown and their hope was that being together will help soften the blow of how their season has suddenly soured.
Once a promising 6-2 and atop the Eastern Conference, the Magic have taken a drastic turn for the worse over the past three weeks. Injuries to point guards Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin knocked the team out of rhythm and it has since lost its swagger as a high-scoring, hot-shooting offensive juggernaut. The last victory – Nov. 10 in Phoenix against the rebuilding Suns – seems like a lifetime ago what with losses to Denver, Golden State, Portland, Utah, Indiana and Minnesota piling up on them.
A much-needed, feel-good win certainly seemed possible on Wednesday what with the encouraging way that the Magic opened against the Timberwolves, making 65 percent of their shots early on and racking up 12 assists on their first 15 baskets. However, another dismal third quarter (41-18 this time) left the Magic searching for positives from a strong finish that left them with another frustrating defeat.
``We’ve got to play mad for four quarters,’’ fumed head coach Frank Vogel, referring to his team’s desperation in the fourth quarter following a flat stretch in the third. ``We’ve lost six in a row. We’ve got to play that way to start games and throughout the game.’’
Understandably, there has been much consternation about Orlando’s drop off offensively from its heady 6-2 start to its 2-8 skid over the past 10 games. Whereas the Magic scorched the nets by scoring 114.9 points (second in the NBA), shooting 48.9 percent from the floor (second in the NBA) and connecting on 44.2 percent of their 3-point shots (first in the NBA) in the first eight games, they have since plummeted in each of those categories over the last 10 games: 101.3 points (23rd in the NBA during that stretch), 44.9 percent shooting (17th) and 33.9 percent 3-point accuracy (23rd).
Defense, the culprit on Wednesday when Minnesota had four players score at least 20 points, has also taken a nose dive. Orlando had the NBA’s eighth-best defensive rating in the first eight games (100.2 points per 100 possessions), but it has dropped to 29th in the league over the past 10 games in defensive rating (109.3 points per 100 possessions).
One of the main reasons for that drop off, players almost universally agree, is because the team tends to lose its focus and aggression defensively when shots aren’t falling on the offensive end. Those issues, center Nikola Vucevic stressed, are signs of mental weakness and disbelief from the Magic and they reared their ugly head again in the momentum-turning portions of Wednesday’s loss.
``I think in that third quarter, honestly, we played soft defensively,’’ said Vucevic, whose Magic allowed the Timberwolves to make 12 of 19 shots with four 3-pointers just after halftime. ``They scored I don’t know how many times on the first unit and the second unit came with the same thing. So, the third quarter was just soft. It wasn’t about Xs and Os or anything. It was just bad effort from us, us not playing hard enough and not being tough enough.’’
Fournier, who is in his fourth year with the Magic, desperately doesn’t want to see this season end up like the previous three – out of playoff contention even before the NBA All-Star break in mid-February. The Magic must bring the desperation and sense of urgency to entire games that they played with in Wednesday’s fourth quarter, the team’s leading scorer said. The Magic trimmed a 26-point deficit to five by getting stops and getting back to their share-the-ball style of offense.
That, Fournier stressed, is the only way the Magic can win and shake themselves from an unsightly losing streak that threatens their season again.
Doing so certainly won’t be easy what with the Celtics (winners of 16 straight before Wednesday’s loss in Miami) and the rested Philadelphia 76ers (10-7) dead ahead for the Magic. It will take a certain level of desperation to win and Fournier hopes his Magic will treat the games ahead that way. Otherwise, Orlando will be left with more misery to digest with its Thanksgiving Day leftovers.
``Play like it’s a playoff game for us – that’s the only way I see it right now,’’ Fournier said with conviction. ``We have to play extremely hard and with confidence. We’ve just got to find a way to get a `W,’ get this streak over and bounce back.’’
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