Frank Vogel Sees Team Improving, Trusts They Can Overcome Recent Adversity

By John Denton
Nov. 20, 2017

ORLANDO – While the Orlando Magic’s 6-2 start to the season was a reason for mild celebration and optimism, head coach Frank Vogel always knew a regression was inevitable and the squad would ultimately have to deal with adversity at some point.

That slump might have come earlier than expected as the Magic dropped six of their next eight games, including four in a row to enter Monday night’s home game against the Indiana Pacers. While Saturday’s humbling 125-85 loss to the Utah Jazz was galling, it showed how this Magic team still has some growing pains that it must endure, Vogel said.

``Look, we’ve come a long way in a very short time from where we were last year,’’ reminded Vogel, who endured the ugliness of a 29-53 season last year in Orlando. ``It would be inaccurate in our thinking if we thought it was fixed overnight. It’s something that’s got to be a part of the daily grind and the daily process of improvement. The positives are evident from what we’ve looked like at times this year. We know that we can do it.’’

Vogel said all the Magic’s strong start did was alert foes to what they need to take away when facing Orlando. Defenders have been stopping leaving vastly improved 3-point shooters Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic so open and they have shifted coverages toward Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton to take away their drives to the rim. That has resulted in Orlando averaging 96 points on 44.5 percent shooting and 34 percent accuracy from 3-point range – numbers dramatically down from the 114.9 points, 48.9 percent shooting and 44.2 percent accuracy from 3-point range in the first eight games.

``We’ve got to do it in the face of different defensive schemes and different attacks,’’ Vogel noted. ``Defenses are changing and it’s not just us. We’re getting more attention to (Nikola Vucevic’s pick-and-pop) and Aaron’s 3-point shots. Now, we’ve got to make an adjustment to how the defenses are playing us.’’

HAPPY FOR OLADIPO: While the Magic haven’t had much to be happy about lately with their recent four-game losing streak, many of their players spoke on Monday about their happiness over how former teammate Victor Oladipo has found happiness in Indiana.

The guard spent his first three seasons in the NBA in Orlando before getting traded to Oklahoma City on draft night of 2016 for power forward Serge Ibaka. The Thunder awarded Oladipo a lucrative contract extension prior to last season, but they dealt him to Indiana this past summer when they had the chance to land standout forward Paul George.

Oladipo, who starred collegiately at Indiana University, has been the Pacers’ most consistent player. He has averaged 22.6 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 44.6 percent from 3-point range – all numbers better than he ever posted in his time with the Magic from 2013-16.

``He’s playing great, he looks like he’s home and he’s found a home where he can stay for a long time and he looks comfortable there,’’ said Gordon, a teammate of Oladipo’s for two seasons in Orlando. ``He’s always been a talented person and I’m super happy for him.’’

Added Vucevic: ``He’s been playing really well for them and I’m happy for him because it hasn’t been easy for him getting traded a second time in a year. But Indiana is a great team for him because they are a young team and he gets to do a lot of things offensively. And he went to school there and I know he loves being back there.’’

KEEPING THE FAITH: There was a time when Oladipo thought he might spend his entire career in Orlando, alongside of close friends Elfrid Payton and Gordon as part of the Magic’s young core. But getting traded – and then traded again last summer – reminded him of the business aspect of the NBA. He said his faith and his strong supporting cast helped him to keep his confidence in his abilities.

``When you have the faith that I have and the team that I have as far as my family and people that I trust, it’s easy to get through anything and anything is possible,’’ Oladipo said prior to tipoff on Monday. ``Like I’ve told people (for years), I believe everything happens for a reason. I feel like God put me here for a reason and I believe in His plan. I’m going to make the most of every situation that I’m in.’’

Oladipo said he still watches the Magic closely when he has time and he still stays in contact with Payton. He said he was happy for the Magic when they started the season 6-2 and he likes how the team has meshed thus far. And he’s been buoyed by the support that he’s received from his former Orlando teammates via text messages and calls.

``It will be competitive and we’re going to compete like we used to,’’ Oladipo said of potentially guarding Payton. ``We used to compete in practice. It’s great to see him and see familiar faces and great people. His family is like my family. It’s cool to see how much he’s grown and how much better he’s gotten, too.’’

Oladipo admitted that his return to Orlando last year was ``kind of emotional’’ when he was playing for the Thunder. This season, he said his mindset is more business-like.

``This ain’t my first time coming back here and you kind of get used to it after a while,’’ Oladipo said. ``I guess last year was kind of emotional a little bit, but tonight I’m just going to go out there and compete and do whatever it takes to help our team win.’’

UP NEXT: Still somewhat recovering from a four-game, eight-day trip to the West Coast last week, the Magic are about to embark on another grueling road jaunt.

The Magic leave on Tuesday for difficult a four-game, seven-night trip with games in Minnesota (Wednesday), Boston (Friday), Philadelphia (Saturday) and Indiana (Monday). The team will wake up Thanksgiving morning in Minneapolis before flying to Boston and holding a team dinner.

With the two road trips and home games against Utah and Indiana in between, the Magic will be playing eight of 10 games and spending 15 of 20 nights on the road. Six of those games will be against teams that made the playoffs last season and two others – in Minnesota and in Philadelphia – will be against squads on track to make the playoffs this year.

``My assistant coach, Chad Forcier, calls it the vortex of our schedule,’’ Vogel said with a chuckle. ``It’s like the eye of the storm. It’s a very difficult stretch, but every team has them and we’re not crying over what the schedule looks like. We’re just trying to bring effort and energy, focus and discipline and great game plans and improve these guys as much as we can.’’

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