Frank Vogel Shakes Up Starting Lineup
Jonathon Simmons Starts in Place of Terrence Ross
By John Denton
Nov. 27, 2017
INDIANAPOLIS – Looking for something – anything, really, at this point – to send a charge into his slumping team, Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel changed his starting lineup on Monday for the first time this season for non-injury reasons.
Vogel promoted guard Jonathon Simmons to the starting lineup against the Indiana Pacers and moved Terrence Ross into a reserve role. The move was made to put one of Orlando’s best all-around defenders, Simmons, in against Indiana’s top scorer, Victor Oladipo, and also to put Ross back in a role that he has played out of most of his career.
``Terrence and I have been in conversations about him maybe being more involved when coming off the bench and with Simmons, we’d like to see what we look like with him having a bigger role,’’ Vogel said. ``So it fits both players in terms of maybe putting them in the right roles.’’
Orlando opened this season with the same starting lineup as the one used in Game 82 a season earlier – a first in franchise history. With Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and Ross, the Magic were one of just five teams – the Warriors, Trail Blazers, Wizards and Bucks were the others – to return the same starting five from the season before.
That group started an impressive 6-2 despite a hamstring injury to Payton and Orlando seemed to steady itself at 8-4 after losing both Payton and D.J. Augustin for a short stretch.
However, the Magic came into Monday having dropped the past eight games with five of them being by a double-digit margin. During that stretch (Nov. 11-27), the Magic have the NBA’s worst defensive rating (115.6 points per 100 possessions) and the offense hasn’t been much better (ranked 21st, 101.2 points per 100 possessions). Vogel is hopeful that Ross will be more of an offensive focal point on the second unit.
``(Ross) gets lost a little bit with the first group. Maybe we can change the dynamic with the first group,’’ Vogel said. ``Again, you lose eight straight and you have to look at some different things.’’
Simmons, who signed with the Magic in July after spending his first two NBA seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, has been one of Orlando’s most reliable scorers on the season, averaging 14 points while 49.5 percent from the floor and getting to the free throw line 82 times in 20 games. Monday’s start was his second of the season after he was moved into the starting five for one game on Nov. 5 while the Magic were short on healthy guards.
Prior to Monday, Ross had played off the bench in 231 of his 407 NBA games. He has struggled badly with his shot this season while averaging just 9.3 points a game.
``That’s something that go at and we’ve been talking about it for a while,’’ Ross said of moving to the bench. ``We’re just trying to switch things up and get different looks and find out what else we can use. Maybe, it will divvy up the scoring and bring some more firepower to the team in different areas. It’s more like a mutual thing.’’
Ross’ 32.9 percent accuracy on his 3-point shot is the lowest of his career and his 41.1 percent shooting overall is his lowest since the 2014-15 season. He came to Orlando in a trade with Toronto last February and averaged 12.5 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting and 34.1 percent success rate from 3-point range.
``I just want to do whatever I can to help,’’ Ross said. ``We’ve got a lot of good players in here and I just wanted to see where I could make more of an impact.’’
REACTION TO FIZDALE FIRING: When the Magic played in Memphis 3 ½ weeks ago, Orlando sat atop the Eastern Conference, while the Grizzlies were one of the surprise teams in the NBA and sat alone atop the Western Conference.
What a difference 26 days can make considering the current plight of the Magic and Grizzlies now. Not only has Orlando fallen on hard times, but Memphis also has struggled mightily since. After dropping their eighth straight game and dealing with unhappy center Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies surprisingly fired head coach David Fizdale on Monday. The second-year head coach guided Memphis to the playoffs last season and had mostly held firm this season despite an Achilles injury to standout point guard Mike Conley.
``Things can definitely turn around quickly and that’s our intent here,’’ Vogel said, referring to his hope that his Magic can turn around their season. ``It turns for the worse quickly and hopefully it turns and gets back on track for us quickly.’’
Added Indiana coach Nate McMillan about the Fizdale firing: ``I just saw that and was shocked. I don’t know what all went into that decision, but it’s early in the year and that was a shocker to see that.’’
TOUGH TRIPS: When the NBA schedule first came out back in July, the Magic knew full well that their season very well could hinge on how they handled a three-week stretch in the heart of November.
As it’s turned out, the two taxing trips have been even more difficult than first feared.
Back on Nov. 11, Orlando started its swing through the Western Conference with a victory in Phoenix, but it followed with losses to Denver, Golden State and Portland. For whatever, reason, that eight-day trip seemed to sap the life out of the squad and the Magic were sluggish in losses to Utah and Indiana at the Amway Center.
A day later, Orlando was on the road again – this time a four-game, seven-night trip through the East Coast and Midwest. In all, the Magic have played eight of the last 10 games and have spent 15 of the past 20 days – including the Thanksgiving holiday – on the road, and it’s been a mental and physical grind on the squad.
``As far as wins and losses, I didn’t expect this stretch to go this way,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic said. ``We knew it was going to be a difficult stretch, playing some good teams and being on the road a lot – that’s never easy. But we never expected it to go this bad. It is what it is at this point and we’ve just got to find a way to get out of this (slump). Really, we’re the only ones who can do it.’’
UP NEXT: While the Magic are certainly happy to be finished with the most road-heavy portion of the season, their schedule isn’t lightening up one bit in terms of the competition level just because they are returning home.
Orlando will host star-studded teams from Oklahoma City (Wednesday) and Golden State (Friday) in the next two games. Despite adding former all-stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to a roster that already included reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have limped along at 8-11 thus far. They will come to Orlando on Wednesday having lost two in a row and four of the last five games.
The Warriors are heavy favorites to win it all again and they proved that to the Magic in Oakland on Nov. 13, winning 110-100 thanks to a lopsided advantage in the third quarter.
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