Fournier, Magic Not Surprised By Team's Early Success

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By John Denton
Dec. 26, 2015

ORLANDO – What looked to be a risky and daring move at the time seems to have become an important turning point in the season for the surging Orlando Magic.

With his team slogging along at an inconsistent 6-8 on Nov. 23 following a lopsided loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Magic head coach Scott Skiles made the decision that a lineup change was needed. Seeking to balance out the first and second unit with scorers and add more 3-point shooting, Skiles boldly took standout guard Victor Oladipo – arguably the team’s best two-way players – and moved him to the second unit. The not only freed up a starting slot for sweet-shooting power forward Channing Frye, but it allowed Evan Fournier and Tobias Harris to move back to their natural positions at shooting guard and small forward.

The immediate benefits of the change were impressive: A five-game winning streak. And the lasting pluses have been even more telling: Since the lineup change, the Magic are 11-4 – the third-best record in the NBA behind only Golden State (14-3) and San Antonio (14-3).

``It’s true that we’re playing pretty good basketball and I guess it’s a surprise to a lot of people, but not us,’’ said Fournier, the hero of Wednesday’s win against Houston with his go-ahead shot with 14 seconds remaining. ``We’ve been working very hard and I feel like we deserve where we are.’’

Orlando (17-12) hopes to extend its run of success tonight against the arch-rival Miami Heat (17-11) when the two teams play at the Amway Center. Tipoff is just after 7 p.m.

Miami beat New Orleans in overtime on Christmas Day. After having a schedule loaded with home games early in the season, the Heat will be playing just their ninth road game of the season. They have won 12 of the last 13 games against the Magic.

Following an 0-2 start to the season, Orlando went 9-6 in November for its first winning month since March of 2012. And because they are 8-4 this December, they have already secured a second straight winning month – another first since February (11-4) and March (9-7) of 2012. But the Magic want to close out this month with a bang, hoping to capture home victories against Miami (tonight), New Orleans (Monday) and Brooklyn (Wednesday).

``If you have a chance like this – even if you’ve done that (securing a winning month) – now you have a chance to really extend it and buy yourself a little space. We’ve got to take advantage of (being at home),’’ Skiles said. ``I’ve said it before, our February/March situation is very, very difficult, so if we’ve got a chance to get some space, we need to do it.’’

Skiles might be an old-school coach in terms of his hard-driving ways and his no-excuse mantras, but he is very accepting of the new-school thinking as it relates to analytics. Before making Orlando’s lineup changes, Skiles deeply analyzed how the Magic’s offense and defense were functioning and ran through his mind several of the possible fall outs.

As it turns out, Skiles’ lineup changes have worked wonders for both the Magic’s offense and defense. In the first 14 games of the season, Orlando had an offensive rating of 98.7 points per 100 possessions and a defensive rating of 100.7 points per 100 possessions. Over the last 15 games, Orlando’s offensive rating has improved to 104.5 points per and the defensive rating of 98.8 points per 100 possessions has held firm.

``You hope it works out this well, but you never know for sure,’’ Skiles said when asked about how the lineup changes have positively affected his squad. ``The more that we talked about (the lineup change) the more logical it came to try it and do it. We were 6-8 and wanted to try and do something to get us going a little bit. So far, it’s worked out, but you just never know.’’

Second-year forward Aaron Gordon said part of the beauty of this Magic team is that the success hasn’t changed the mindset of the team one bit. Gordon said the Magic are determined to keep raising the bar of expectations so that the team remains hungry and striving for more.

``We’ve had that belief (that they were going to win) since we all got together,’’ said Gordon, who had a 14-point second-quarter burst in Wednesday’s win. ``We knew that this year was going to be different and we knew that we were going to have something for teams. We expected to win and we expect to win now.’’