MEXICO CITY – Prior to the Orlando Magic playing the 11th international game in their 30-year history, CEO Alex Martins praised his team’s time in Mexico City and reaffirmed the franchise’s commitment to helping the NBA grow the game globally.
The league expanded the NBA Mexico City Games 2018 to two games this year – the eighth and ninth regular-season games ever played in Mexico City – in large part because of the Magic’s commitment to sacrifice two home games and play twice in Mexico City. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver went out of his way on Thursday to repeatedly thank the Magic for their dedication toward helping the NBA expose the game to international fans.
On Saturday, before the Magic wrapped up their two-game trip against the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz in Mexico City, Martins praised the host city for its hospitality and talked about the importance of his franchise to continue to play international games.
``It’s been a great trip for us, being able to bring the Magic brand to Mexico and exposing us on an international stage,’’ Martins said of his team playing in a city of 22 million people and a nation of 120 million potential fans. ``We also want to help the league continue to grow the game, and its popularity has grown significantly here in Mexico and Latin America.’’
In its history, Orlando has played a combined 11 preseason and regular-season games in England (twice), Mexico (twice), Japan, China, and Brazil. While continuing to value the Magic’s strong fanbase all throughout Central Florida, Martins said it’s important to also continue to expose the franchise globally.
``We’ve always been huge supporters of the Commissioner and the league overall,’’ Martins said. ``We’re one of the teams that always raises our hands to travel internationally (in league meetings). This is our 11th game now internationally now in 30 years, which is quite amazing.
``We just think it’s great for the game, great for the Magic brand and a great social opportunity for our players, staff and traveling party,’’ Martins added. ``But to be able to help the league grow the game internationally, that’s something that will always be important to us.’’
VOOCH’S DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: Having coached Southeast Division rival Charlotte the previous five seasons, Steve Clifford was well-aware of how skilled center Nikola Vucevic was offensively, stressing that he always had the 7-footer at the top of the scouting report when facing the Magic.
What Clifford didn’t know, however, is how adept and skilled Vucevic is on the defensive end of the floor as well.
Though he’s not an elite shot-blocker or a particularly imposing center, Vucevic has impressed his first-year head coach all season with his high basketball IQ, his ability to anticipate plays and his willingness to fight defensively.
The latest example of that, Clifford said, came on Thursday when Vucevic shined on both ends of the floor. Not only did he score a game-high 26 points and drill the go-ahead shot with 28.1 seconds to play, Vucevic was also a strong factor on the defensive end of the floor all night. Of the Magic’s 40 pass deflections against the Bulls, Vucevic had eight of them – three coming in the final 4 ½ minutes when the outcome was hanging in the balance.
``It’ll come out if he continues to do it and our defense continues to get better, but I knew he was a good offensive player, but he’s a better defender than I realized,’’ Clifford said. ``His pick-and-roll defense has been good. He’s been rock-solid defensively for us.’’
Vucevic said it gives him great pride to know that his work to improve on the defensive end of the floor is being noticed and that it is making a difference for the Magic. Not that he is even considering this, but Vucevic’s improvement on the defensive end could strengthen his bid to land a spot in the NBA All-Star Game for the first time in his eight-year career. Also, it could prove to be the difference in helping the Magic make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
``I’ve been getting a lot of (expletive) about it through much of my career, but over the years I’ve made improvement on that end and I’ve been able to play smarter,’’ Vucevic said with a wry smile. ``I’m aware that I’m not going to be like some of the shot-blockers in this league because I don’t have those physical capabilities, but with my size, my length, my wingspan and my IQ for the game I can read some situations and do a better job. It’s something that I’ve talked a lot about with Coach (Clifford) and we’ve watched a lot of film. I think I’ve been doing a better job on that this season, being more aggressive.’’
THE POWER OF BASKETBALL: As they peered out at the towering Sierra Madre mountains surrounding the city or marveled at the roadside Mexican markets with their colorful chirimoya (custard apples), spiky chayote (avocados) and nopales (edible cactus), Magic forwards Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac said they often thought to themselves about the power of basketball.
Being in Mexico City this week as part of the NBA Mexico City Games 2018, Gordon and Isaac said they have gotten to see an area of world and savor some of the local scene that they otherwise likely would never have been able to take in. Making the experience even more enjoyable, Gordon had his mother join him on the trip, while Isaac has his mother and two brothers with him in Mexico City this week.
``I was thinking about it earlier this morning that just since I’ve been with the Orlando Magic, we’ve been to Brazil, we’ve been to London and now Mexico City,’’ Gordon said. ``Even my brother (Drew), he’s gotten to travel overseas everywhere, so with the game of basketball there really are no limits to it.’’
Added Isaac: ``We’re out here in Mexico and it’s an honor and a privilege to be here. I’ve been to dinner with my family and I can’t wait to get out and enjoy more of the local flavor. It’s fantastic when basketball takes one person some where they have never been and then that person is able to take others who have never been either. So, credit the league and the Magic organization for giving us these opportunities.’’
UP NEXT: After spending nearly another week on the road, including five days in Mexico City, the Magic will get some much-needed downtime at home.
The team was scheduled to fly home immediately after Saturday’s game against Utah and arrive back in Orlando just before midnight. The team will take Sunday off before returning to the practice floor on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for Wednesday’s home game against the San Antonio Spurs.
Following a Dec. 21 rematch against the Bulls in Chicago, the Magic will pay four straight games at the Amway Center.
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