Frank Vogel Happy to See Eagles in NFC Title Game

By John Denton
Jan. 16, 2018

ORLANDO – Last weekend’s NFL games brought a wide range of emotions – from sheer ecstasy to pure misery – for Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel and point guard Elfrid Payton.

Vogel grew up in Wildwood Crest, N.J., which is about a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia. As a child, Vogel and his family regularly travelled to the City of Brotherly Love for Eagles, 76ers and Phillies games and he is still an ardent supporter of those teams. Understandably, Vogel was delighted when the Eagles rallied in the second half and made a goal-line stand late in the game to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 15-10.

``Had them all the way, sure, no sweat, no tense, final-minute plays or anything like that,’’ Vogel joked. ``But I’m really happy for (the Eagles) and I hope they beat the Vikings.’’

As for Payton, he hails from Gretna, La., a suburb of New Orleans. Payton’s father, Elfrid Sr., is a member of the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame and he passed down his love of football to his son. To this day, Orlando’s Payton calls the Saints’ Super Bowl victory in 2009 his favorite sports memory.

Payton, who has been saying for months that New Orleans would win the Super Bowl this season, could only look on in shock as his Saints surrendered a 61-yard touchdown pass to Minnesota Vikings’ wide receiver Stefon Diggs on the final play of a 29-24 loss.

As upset as Payton was about the crushing defeat, he said he truly felt sorry for New Orleans’ safety Marcus Williams, who whiffed on the tackle and allowed the touchdown as time expired.

``I just feel for him and I know that (Saints fans) can’t feel worse than him,’’ Payton said. ``It looked like he didn’t want to hit (Diggs) too early. But that was a tough loss. I was just kind of in shock (after the touchdown) and then I was praying that (Diggs) had stepped out of bounds, but it’s tough and it’s going to be awhile (before forgetting that loss). It still hurts and (friends and family) are still heartbroken, but it’s going to be all right, though.’’

FOURNIER’S FIGHT: Forward Evan Fournier, who is in his fourth year with the Magic, figured this season would be different than the previous three when Orlando was rebuilding and out of the playoff chase by midseason. And Fournier had strong reason to believe that things would be better after the Magic transformed their style of play and got off to starts of 6-2 and 8-4 in October.

However, things quickly fell apart for the Magic when they were hit hard by injuries just as the schedule was dramatically toughening up in mid-November. That stretch, combined with a rough run in December and early January, left the Magic staring at a 4-27 record over 31 games that has sent the season spiraling once again.

Resigned to the fact that the Magic will most likely miss the playoffs again, Fournier said that it’s important for the squad to play its best in the coming weeks to show that it still has a bright future despite the struggles of the season.

``The goal for the rest of the season is to play better basketball so that we can feel better about ourselves and about the future,’’ said Fournier, Orlando’s second-leading scorer at 17.6 points per game. ``You can lose games and you’ll still be disappointed, but if you feel like you gave it your all and you played the right way, it was just the opponent was better than you.

``Most of the time (the Magic) don’t feel like this,’’ he continued. ``We (know we) could have done a ton of things better and we don’t want that. You can live with it when they’re just better than you – it’s upsetting and disappointing and it makes you work – and sometimes it’s just reality. But most of the time we kind of kill ourselves.’’

Vogel said that while fighting harder in games has been a point of emphasis of late, playing better also has to be a mission of the Magic. Orlando’s ball movement offensively has been spotty all season and its defense has plummeted to the bottom of the league. The Magic came into Tuesday 29th in the NBA in points per game allowed, 28th in field goal percentage allowed and 29th in 3-point percentage allowed.

``(Fighting) is the minimum requirement, yes, but we’ve got to play harder than our opponent to get wins and we’ve got to improve what we’re doing on both ends of the floor,’’ Vogel said. ``We can sit here and say that we’re playing hard all that we want – and our guys have been playing really hard and have been fighting – but there are certain things that you have to do better to win basketball games that we can do. That’s what I’m looking for with our guys.’’

TOUGHNESS FOR TIMBERWOLVES: Forward Marcus Georges-Hunt thought his future in the NBA would be in Orlando, especially after he finished last season with the Magic and had several strong performances in the Orlando Pro Summer League with the Magic.

That path changed over the summer when the Magic drafted Jonathan Isaac and Wes Iwundu and signed wings Jonathon Simmons and Arron Afflalo in free agency.

Georges-Hunt was waived by the Magic on July 31 and he ultimately signed a partially guaranteed contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Aug. 11. That contract recently became fully guaranteed for the season after he had impressed Minnesota coaches with his play in practice and the 25 games he’s gotten into while averaging 1.1 points.

``All I could control was when I was working out and what I was doing to prepare myself to make (the Magic), but it didn’t come out as I wanted it to,’’ Georges-Hunt said of the end of his run with the Magic. ``But then another door opened up and I had this opportunity (in Minnesota).’’

Georges-Hunt said he’s kept in touch with Payton and he closely follows the Magic’s results from game-to-game. He said he also has great admiration for Magic fans – many of whom still interact with him via social media and follow his progress with the Timberwolves.

``The fans still send me messages on social media and stuff and congratulate me on past accomplishments and my contract getting guaranteed,’’ he added. ``(Living in Orlando) grew on me a little bit.’’

UP NEXT: Orlando came into Tuesday having played 24 road games already this season. That number is tied with Toronto and San Antonio for the most road games in the NBA thus far. The Magic came into the season knowing that their schedule was front-loaded with road games with 28 of the first 49 being outside of Central Florida.

The Magic will be back on the road starting Wednesday afternoon for what figures to be a very difficult two-game road trip. The Magic will face the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Thursday night and they will play the Celtics in Boston on Sunday afternoon. The Cavaliers and Celtics are the heavy favorites in the East to eventually reach the conference finals in May and June.

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.