By John Denton Nov. 24, 2017
BOSTON – Just as he did when the Orlando Magic were starting the season 6-2 and setting scoring and shooting records, head coach Frank Vogel is preaching a message to his team that stresses both patience and urgency with the club now in a dry spell.
It’s no coincidence that the Magic’s struggles have hit at the same time as their schedule grew teeth with a bevy of difficult road games. Just off a four-game, eight-day West Coast road trip last week, Orlando is now on a four-game, seven-day swing through the East Coast and the Midwest. The Magic opened their latest trip in Minnesota on Wednesday, spent Thanksgiving and Friday in Boston, play again Saturday night in Philadelphia and close out the trip in Indiana on Monday.
Long before the season, the Magic were well aware that this particular stretch – eight of 10 games and 15 of 20 nights on the road – would test their mettle because of the amount of travel and the difficulty of the games.
Also, Orlando has 28 of its first 50 games on the road – the most in the NBA during that time. The eventual payoff, of course, is that the team has several long stretches at home in February and March. Vogel keeps reminding his team that the season is still relatively young, but that there is a need for urgency now.
``We’ve got to get a win and I don’t want us to just think that everything is going to get easy for us or that we can wait until later on in the season,’’ Vogel said before Orlando’s game against the Celtics in Boston on Friday. ``Certainly, we’re still stressing to them that it’s November and it’s early in the season and we’ve got to try to keep our heads above water and squeeze out as many wins as we can. But there are better days ahead.’’
Magic point guard Elfrid Payton said that Vogel has done a good job keeping the team inspired while also instilling a sense of urgency.
``Guys are confident for the most part. We feel like we’re a good team, but we’ve just hit a rough patch and we can turn it around. We’re still very confident in what we can do,’’ Payton said. ``There’s still plenty of time. But as much as you want to look at having plenty of time, we want to win now. We don’t want to be looking forward; we need to take care of today. Then, later on there is the promise of tomorrow. While all of that is true and we’ve still got time in the season, we’re most concerned about trying to get better right now.’’
MORE OF MO: After playing only sparingly early in the season, Magic veteran big man Marreese Speights has gotten consistent minutes of late for one reason – Vogel wants his shot-making abilities on the floor more.
In the first 11 games of the season, Speights played double-digit minutes just twice and had four games when he received a Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision designation.
Speights – along with veteran guard Arron Afflalo – have been used as part of the second unit of late. Speights has gotten double-digit minutes in each of the five games prior to Friday and he’s delivered with two double-digit scoring performances and games of nine, eight and eight points in the other three. In those five games, Speights has made 10 of 24 3-point shots.
Vogel so wanted the 6-foot-10, 255-pound Speights on the floor that he has experimented with him at a different position.
``To me, it’s just about finding a way to get Mo Speights on the floor,’’ Vogel said of the 10-year veteran, who scored 18 points and made six 3-pointers in an Oct. 30 defeat of New Orleans. ``I feel like he’s helped us. I don’t want to lose Bismack’s (Biyombo) shot-blocking at the rim by playing Mo at (center), so if opportunities present themselves to get Mo on the floor (at power forward) we’re going to do it.’’
PAYTON AT THE POINT: When the Magic lost 104-88 to Boston on Nov. 5, Payton and fellow point guard D.J. Augustin were both out with strained hamstrings. The Magic were so shorthanded that shooting guard Jonathon Simmons had to start that night at point guard.
Payton was back on Friday, meaning he had to try and match up with Boston all-star point guard Kyrie Irving.
The point guard position is easily the NBA’s deepest and most star-studded position, meaning Payton is often matched up with an all-star in most games. He faced former all-star Jeff Teague on Wednesday, Irving on Friday and he’ll potentially get a break on Saturday as Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons – the leading candidate for the Rookie of the Year – has been ruled out because of swelling in his left elbow.
Payton said he doesn’t mind the nightly challenge of facing a superstar-level player at the point guard position on a nightly basis.
``This is what you signed up for and what you want because I like challenges,’’ Payton said of facing Irving. ``I think (Irving’s) finishing (shots around the rim) is his best attribute and I just go in trying to make that as tough as possible. You want him to be uncomfortable and contained.’’
UP NEXT: The Magic will be back in action on Saturday night when they face the rested 76ers in Philadelphia. While the Magic will be playing their second game in as many nights, Philadelphia should be fresh from having Thursday and Friday off.
Thus far, in three back-to-back sets of games – six in all – the Magic are 3-3. They are just 1-2 in the first nights of those scenarios, but an impressive 2-1 on the second night.
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