Gordon Focused on Trying to be More Efficient

by John Denton

SALT LAKE CITY – The Orlando Magic have fallen into the throes of an unsightly three-game losing streak for a variety of reasons, largely their slumping bench play and their wayward shooting as a team.

However, forward Aaron Gordon is willing to accept much of the blame for the team’s struggles. As a tri-captain and one of the Magic’s locker room leaders, Gordon said he feels personally responsible when the team falls into a slump and he’s looking to himself for improvement – starting tonight when the Magic (17-23) face the Jazz (20-21) in Utah. Tipoff is just after 9 p.m. ET (TV: Fox Sports Florida).

``I’ve got to play better, be more efficient and it all basically comes down to me playing better on the offensive end,’’ said Gordon, who made just three of 13 shots and one of five 3-pointers in Monday’s 111-95 loss in Sacramento. ``I’ve got to make shots, I’ve got to create shots and I’ve got to be better.’’

Orlando limps into tonight’s game at the end of a six-game, 11-night road trip that will feature a first for the squad. For the first time in the 30-year history of the franchise, the Magic will be playing in all four continental U.S. time zones on the same road trip. Orlando actually started the trip in 2018, going to Charlotte, Chicago, Minnesota, Sacramento and Utah. The team is scheduled to fly home immediately after the game, arriving back in Central Florida in the early-morning hours of Thursday.

The Magic suffered a lopsided loss in Charlotte on the second night of a back-to-back set of games and then rallied to rout the Bulls two nights later. However, since then the Magic have dropped games against the Timberwolves, Clippers and Kings – largely because of their offensive woes. Orlando shot 29 percent from the floor over the final 30 minutes of the loss in Minnesota, it made just 37 percent from the floor and nine of 37 threes in Los Angeles and only 36.8 percent and 13 of 37 threes in Sacramento.

Whereas Tuesday would have usually been a complete off day for the team, head coach Steve Clifford brought the squad together for a film session after arriving in Utah. Clifford wanted to show the Magic that the shots they are getting are open looks and they simply need to shoot them with confidence and while in rhythm. Teams have resorted to going ``under’’ on pick-and-roll plays, daring Orlando’s struggling wing players to heave shots from the perimeter.

``We just did a film session so that they could see how teams are defending us now,’’ Clifford said. ``The shots that we’re taking are shots that are available. But there’s a fine line between overthinking it and just taking good shots when sometimes there might be a great shot in that possession. It’s a hard thing and there are a lot of unders (on screens) right now. But, frankly, if we’ll just make the open ones early it will open things up. But we also need to get more cuts and roll baskets to help us get the ball going to the basket.’’

The Magic can take confidence into tonight’s game from knowing that they beat Utah 96-89 on Dec. 15 in Mexico City as part of the NBA Mexico City Games 2018. In that game, Orlando trailed by as much as 11 early in the night and was down four going into the fourth period. The Magic won it by outscoring the Jazz 41-30 over the final 12 minutes of the game. Evan Fournier had 24 points, while Terrence Ross poured in 10 of his 19 points in the fourth period.

The Magic must find a way to generate offense against a Utah defense anchored by towering center Rudy Gobert and one that ranks sixth in the NBA in points allowed per game (105.9) and 18thin field goal percentage allowed (46.2 percent).

``Scoring,’’ Clifford said of his top concern in facing the Jazz. ``They’re very good defensively and they’re also very unique for the way they defend. They have built a great defensive system around Gobert and his ability to protect the lane. That allows them to stay home and they’re very good at the rim and they don’t give up threes. So, they’re very disciplines and very well-coached.’’

Playing close to his childhood home of San Jose on Monday in Sacramento, Gordon was extremely disappointed in how he attacked a Kings’ defense daring him to put up shots from afar. In addition to averaging 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds on the season, Gordon is shooting a career-best 35.8 percent from 3-point range. However, that number has dipped a bit of late as he’s made just five of 22 shots from beyond the arc on this long road trip.

Bury a couple of shots from the perimeter early in the game and it will likely make defenders crowd up on Gordon, something that should allow him to more easily get to the rim on drives and cuts.

``I’ve got to be more efficient scoring the ball,’’ Gordon said. ``I feel like I’ve been very passive and that’s a great thing for my teammates. But for us to win the game, I’ve got to score the ball.

``Each game is different with the way that they are guarding me, but I can’t lose confidence in my abilities,’’ he added. ``I’ve got to keep shooting the ball. We just have to make shots and keep shooting. It’s going to come back around.’’

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.

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