By John Denton Feb. 3, 2018
ORLANDO – Just as the Orlando Magic had to make adjustments to their offense when standout center Nikola Vucevic went down with a hand injury in late December, they’ve had to do the same with versatile forward Aaron Gordon being out the past three games.
The results of those changes leading up to Saturday’s showdown against the Washington Wizards have been quite impressive.
Gordon, Orlando’s leading scorer at 18.4 points per game, missed his third straight game on Saturday because of a strained left hip flexor. Gordon tried practicing with the Magic on Friday, but lingering soreness caused him to cut the workout short. Then, the decision was made to keep him out of Orlando’s game on Saturday.
``He felt pretty good before doing live work (on Friday) and when he did live work he realized it’s not quite there yet,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``He’s disappointed that he’s not able to play and a little frustrated. We’ll see how he looks and feels (on Sunday in practice) and that’ll probably decide whether or not we’ll have him in the next two games.’’
The Magic had to play without Gordon on Tuesday in Houston and Wednesday at home and the results – at least offensively – were surprising. With the ball and player movement being better and the Magic continuing to get big contributions from reserves D.J. Augustin, Mario Hezonja and Shelvin Mack, the Magic mustered two of their best shooting nights of the season.
Orlando hit 15 3-pointers on Tuesday and tied a season high on Wednesday in beating the Lakers with 18 more 3-pointers. Nine of those 3-pointers came in the third quarter – a new franchise record.
In the two games, the Magic made 33 of 63 3-point attempts (52.4 percent). It’s the fourth-most threes made in team history during a two-game span, according to STATS, Inc. The most ever is 37 set on Jan. 11-13, 2009. The most threes the Magic have ever made in any three-game span in their history is 53.
``We’re playing good ball and we’re really sharing the ball,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had four of Orlando’s nine 3-pointers in Wednesday’s historic third quarter. ``I think a big part (of the offensive up-tick) is because we’re really attacking the paint and being aggressive. If we don’t have a shot, we’re making good decisions.’’
Playing without Gordon has mostly been disastrous this season for the Magic. They came into Wednesday’s game against the Lakers just 1-9 without their vastly improved 22-year-old power forward. However, it should be pointed out that the two games this season when the Magic have drilled 18 3-pointers in a game – Oct. 21 in Cleveland and Wednesday against the Lakers – came when Gordon was out injured.
``You have to do it by committee and whether (Gordon and Vucevic) are in or out, this is how we want to play,’’ Vogel said. ``We want to play, `create-for-others’ offense and play with the pass. That’s when we’ve been at our best.’’
SUPER BOWL SUNDAY: Having grown up about a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia in southern New Jersey, Vogel has a strong rooting interest in Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. Vogel used to attend Eagles’ games as a child and he still is a big fan of the team.
Vogel’s oldest daughter, Alexa, was actually born in Boston, when her dad was a video coordinator for the Boston Celtics. His youngest daughter, Arianna, was born in Philadelphia when Vogel worked for the 76ers.
Vogel arranged a family movie night on Friday to watch, ``Invincible’’ – the inspiring, true story of Vince Papale (starring Mark Wahlberg) overcoming the odds and making the Eagles’ roster.
``I had to remind my youngest that she was born in Philadelphia. My oldest was born in Boston, but she is an Eagles fan,’’ Vogel said with conviction. ``We’ve got nothing to lose because the Patriots are supposed to win, right?’’
Asked who he truly thought would win, Vogel said: ``The Eagles – and not just because I’m a fan. It’s because I think they are going to win.’’
Vucevic and Magic Head Athletic Trainer Keon Weise are also Eagles fans, while guard Jonathon Simmons is a Patriots fan even though he hails from Houston. Vucevic grew up in Montenegro and first learned about football while playing the ``Madden’’ video games. He knew that he needed a favorite team and picked the Eagles because of the mascot and team colors. He stuck with the Eagles as he moved to America and learned more about football. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, allowing him to see the Eagles in person for the first time.
MILD-MANNERED MACK: Mack isn’t flashy on the floor and he’s often mild-mannered and low maintenance off the floor, making it easy for him to often fly under the radar.
However, Mack has stood out of late with his stellar play off the Orlando bench. Vogel thinks that it took Mack some time to adjust to Orlando’s system and his play has improved as his comfort level has gone up.
Mack averaged 6.7 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 65 percent from the floor in 11 games in January, and he came into Saturday having pumped in 7.7 points on 69.4 percent shooting in the previous 10 games. Also, he came into Saturday ranked first in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.32:1.0).
``He struggled a little in camp and that first month of the season or so, but he’s really gotten comfortable,’’ Vogel said of the reserve guard, who had 15 points on Tuesday in Houston and 13 points on Wednesday against the Lakers. ``Being comfortable has allowed him to go out and just play his game. He’s not forcing it and he’s the ultimate, `play-within-himself’ player. He’s never going to force it and he looks really good of late. He’s a big reason why our offense has been clicking the way it has of late.’’
UP NEXT: Just as they have been for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the Magic will be on the road for another major American holiday: Super Bowl Sunday.
The Magic will practice in Orlando on Sunday afternoon and then fly to Miami. The team figures to be at its hotel before kickoff and plans are in the works to secure a conference room so that players, coaches and staff can watch the game together.
Orlando faces the Heat on Monday in Miami. The Magic beat the Heat in the season-opener, but it has since dropped the past two meetings against their Sunshine State rivals.
The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Tuesday when they host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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