Magic Know They Must Play With More Energy and Effort

By John Denton
Nov. 20, 2017

ORLANDO – In the wake of the Orlando Magic’s worst loss of the season – one that was completely out of character for the resilient way they had played just a couple of weeks earlier – head coach Frank Vogel said the only thing that matters now will be how the team responds going forward.

That first shot at redemption comes tonight at the Amway Center against the Indiana Pacers, a team that has been an irritant for the Magic for years. Tipoff is just after 7 p.m.

Facing the suddenly surging Pacers (9-8), the Magic (8-8) hope to atone for Saturday’s puzzling 125-85 home loss to the Utah Jazz. Everything seemed to be tilting toward Orlando’s favor what with it having two days off to recover from a recent West Coast road trip and the Jazz previously winless on the road and playing on the second night of a back-to-back set of games. Instead, the Magic never led, trailed by as much as 46 points and ended up tying the franchise record for the worst home loss (40 points) in franchise history.

``The energy and effort, obviously, they weren’t good enough, and we’ve tried to teach some things with our defense fundamentally that we can get better on,’’ Vogel said. ``We’re going to play with effort and we’re going to play together and we’ve got a lot to overcome. This Indiana team coming in here is playing at a very, very high level and we’ll have to play a great basketball game. This is all part of the process and we’ve got to have the mindset that we’ve got to get better.’’

Now, comes the rebuttal for a Magic squad that has lost four games in a row and seems miles away from being the confident, cohesive team that started the season 6-2. To a man, Magic players spoke of Saturday’s performance as being ``embarrassing’’ and vowed that the team would respond with more fight and togetherness going forward.

``This game is going to be huge for us because it will show what we’re made of,’’ said center Nikola Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on the Magic. ``It was a tough loss and this is a tough stretch with four games in a row that we’ve lost. It’s about how we respond. We’re going to have to play with a lot more energy than we did on Saturday and that will be important.’’

Tonight’s game will also take on a bit of added importance because it is the last one at the Amway Center in more than a week. 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).

``We have to be way more physical because we weren’t tough enough defensively or offensively,’’ Magic forward Aaron Gordon said of Saturday’s loss. ``It’s going to be a physical game tonight so our toughness level needs to rise.’’

A little more than two weeks ago, the Magic sat at 6-2 and owners of lopsided wins against Cleveland and San Antonio and road victors in New Orleans and Memphis. At that time, they ranked first in the league in 3-point shooting, second in scoring, second in field goal percentage and second in offensive rating.

The bottom has mostly fallen out offensively and defensively since then. A rash of injuries at the point guard position seemed to sap the Magic of their rhythm and confidence and a series of ugly losses have followed to drop the team back to the .500 level.

The difference between the feel-good first eight games and the troubling second eight games can be seen in the offensive production: The Magic averaged 114.9 points per game in the first eight games as the ball whipped around the perimeter and shots rained in from all corners; however, in the last eight games – six of which have resulted in losses – the Magic have mustered just 99.6 points per game.

``A big key for us will be going back to what worked for us early in the year. We went away from it,’’ Vucevic said. ``We started forcing too many things offensively and defensively we started focusing on our own guy too much and not trusting each other enough. It shows and little by little we started breaking down. If we go back to what worked for us, we’ve have a good chance, but Indiana has been playing great.’’

Indiana, which was forced to dramatically re-make its roster this summer following the forced trading of standout forward Paul George, hits Orlando on an upswing. The Pacers, led by former Magic standout Victor Oladipo, have won their last three games. Their winning streak started in Memphis with a clutch win there and it continued with a stirring comeback victory in Detroit on Friday night. On Sunday, Indiana dominated in the second half by scoring 62 points and getting stellar play from Bojan Bogdanovic (26 points) and Myles Turner (25 points) to throttle the Heat in Miami.

Oladipo, who had 15 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots in Sunday’s win, has been Indiana’s most consistent player all season. 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.

Orlando dealt Oladipo to Oklahoma City on draft night in 2016 in exchange for power forward Serge Ibaka. The Thunder awarded Oladipo with a lucrative contract extension, but they dealt him away this summer when it had the chance to land George so that they could pair him with Russell Westbrook.

``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.’’

Indiana beat the Magic in all four meetings last season and did so convincingly by an average margin of 16.7 points a night – factors that didn’t sit well with Vogel considering that he coached previously in Indiana prior to taking over in Orlando. Indiana has been a thorn in the side of Orlando for the better part of three seasons by winning 11 of the past 12 meetings.

Gordon said the Magic didn’t hold any sort of ``players only’’ meetings following Saturday’s loss or on Sunday’s off day. Instead, the team has turned its focus to tonight’s response.

``We’re not at that point (of having a players’ only meeting); we’ve got a team to play tonight and we’ve just got to continue to work hard and come out here to play a brand of basketball that we know how to play,’’ Gordon said.

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