By John Denton
Jan. 21, 2017
ORLANDO – Of Frank Vogel’s frustrations in his first season as head coach of the Orlando Magic, the team’s inconsistent overall play and the continual defensive struggles are near the top of his personal list.
But there’s another area that has both baffled and bothered the prideful and driven head coach.
A little bit beyond the halfway point of the season, Orlando has a disappointing 8-13 mark at the Amway Center – something that particularly irks Vogel for a couple of reasons. First, he knows that any contending team must defend its home court to be highly successful. Most importantly, Vogel wants Magic fans who have stuck with the team through the recent rebuilding process to see and enjoy a winning product that it can be proud of.
``Right now, we just need wins no matter where we’re playing, but our fans have suffered – for the lack of a better word – over the last four or five years and there haven’t been a lot of exciting home wins and we want to give that to them,’’ Vogel said following Friday’s inspiring 112-96 defeat of Milwaukee at the jam-packed Amway Center. ``We’re working hard to turn things around for them, give them a winning product and give them a team that’s going to make a playoff run.
``We care about them and it’s important to us to take care of our business here at home in our building,’’ Vogel added. ``So (Friday) night’s game was a step in the right direction.’’
Considering that the Magic were playing before the second-largest crowd in the six-plus-year history of the Amway Center – 19,307 noisy fans – a victory in which they shared the ball offensively and had a hit-first mentality on defense qualifies as a huge step. Just off a 12-night, six-game marathon road trip, the Magic were delighted to be back home and they played like it before a crowd that was just four fans shy of the Amway Center record set four years earlier.
On Sunday afternoon, the Amway Center attendance record is expected to fall when the Magic (18-27) host the steam-rolling Golden State Warriors (37-6). Not only have the Steph Curry/Kevin Durant/Klay Thompson-led Warriors won six in a row and nine of 10, they have done it this past week while thumping defending champion Cleveland, Oklahoma City and Russell Westbrook and Houston and James Harden.
Orlando is hopeful that another boisterous crowd, more improved play and the noon tipoff will throw the Warriors off their games. The start is the equivalent of a 9 p.m. tip-time for the California-based Warriors, their earliest tipoff in 22 seasons.
Also potentially working in the Magic’s favor: Golden State was scheduled to fly to Orlando following Friday’s win in Houston and practice, but they were forced to remain in Texas because of storms in the area. Instead, the Warriors used Saturday as a travel day to Orlando.
The Magic’s main concern now: Standing up to the Warriors and keeping the positive vibes flowing in front of their home fans at the Amway Center.
``We’ve played more games that pretty much everybody in the East, so now if we can settle down and take care of home, we’ll be right there in the mix,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who is coincidentally a Northern California native who grew up going to Warriors’ games in Oakland, Ca.
Since the Amway Center opened on Oct. 10, 2010, the largest crowd to witness a basketball game was 19,311 fans jammed in to see the Magic face LeBron James and the Miami Heat on Dec. 31, 2012. Two of the five-largest crowds ever at the Amway Center have come this season – 19,272 on Jan. 6 (Magic vs. Rockets) and Friday’s thrilling defeat of the Bucks.
Orlando’s average attendance for 21 home games is 17,915 fans – good for 15th in the NBA. Also, the Magic have had eight sellouts. Those are big increases over last season when the Magic averaged 17,543 fans at home games and had nine sellouts.
The increased crowd support is likely because of the excitement over the hiring of Vogel and the addition of nine new players. However, the Magic haven’t made the home fans happy nearly enough, going through losing streaks of six and three games at the Amway Center. A few of those defeats could be considered as ``schedule losses’’ what with the Magic playing on the second nights of road-to-home back-to-backs while the opponent has the previous night off to rest.
Orlando responded to the roaring crowd on Friday night, brushing off an early 10-point deficit and crushing the Bucks with one of its most complete performances of the season. Offensively, the Magic shot 46 percent, handed out 25 assists and had seven players reach double digits in scoring. Defensively, they limited Milwaukee to 41 second-half points and just 40.5 percent shooting in the game.
Afterward, Vogel felt that the Amway Center crowd played a big role in inspiring the home-standing Magic.
``I have to credit the fans because there was a buzz in this arena, even during warm-ups,’’ raved Vogel, whose Magic hope to get leading scorer Evan Fournier (bruised right heel) back on Sunday. ``We came out and there was smoke in the air, there was a buzz and you could tell the place was packed and that it was a sell-out. The crowd was into the game right away and that makes a difference. We captured that and played off that.’’
The Magic must play the same way to have a chance at keeping pace with the high-powered, high-scoring Warriors. Golden State, the champs in 2015 and runners-up in 2016, added Durant via free agency in July and they have looked even more dominant than last year’s 74-win juggernaut at times. They rank first in the NBA in points per game (118), point differential per game (plus-13), field goal percentage (50.1 percent) and assists per game (31.4), while ranking second in the league in 3-point accuracy (38.5 percent) and field goal percentage allowed (43.2 percent).
And the hits keep on coming from a roster possessing Durant (26.3 ppg.), Curry (24.6 ppg.), Thompson (21.1 ppg.) and Draymond Green (10.8 ppg., 8.7 rpg., 7.7 apg., 1.9 spg., 1.4 bpg.). The Warriors have 10 40-point quarters this season – far and away the most in the league – and they are 9-0 when they churn one out in a game. They are 14-0 when Green has at least 10 assists, 19-0 when they hit at least 13 3-pointers and 14-0 when Durant, Curry and Thompson each score at least 20 points.
Another not so surprising number: Golden State is attracting an average of 18,751 fans to its 20 road games this season – second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. On Sunday, the Magic are hopeful that the fans will be there to not only see them, but to see them win at the Amway Center.
``We need to pick it up here because we’ve definitely been disappointed with our record at home,’’ said Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, who had 20 points, six assists and three steals in Friday’s win. ``Doing better at home is something that we’ve been focusing on and we really want to try and turn that around.’’
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