Postgame Report: Magic vs. Grizzlies

By John Denton
Oct. 2, 2017

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Attempting to change their culture and set a tone for how they hope to play this season, the Orlando Magic pushed the pace, defended with vigor and played an attacking style of basketball throughout most of Monday’s preseason opener.

The problem, however, is that they didn’t make many shots – something that isn’t that surprising considering that the team just opened training camp seven days (and eight practices) ago. Those team-wide shooting struggles – not including the solid accuracy of stalwart Evan Fournier, newcomer Jonathon Simmons and promising rookie Jonathan Isaac – put a mild damper on the night as the Magic fell 92-84 to the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum.

``The energy was good and I thought we fought hard and our pace was pretty good even though we didn’t sustain it for four quarters,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel surmised. ``I think our defensive length showed up and attributed to some of those fast break points. So I was happy with our effort.’’

For the game, Orlando (0-1) shot just 36.4 percent from the floor and connected on only five of 32 3-point shots. Some of those woes stemmed from the starters playing only one half, while some of it was the result of typical sloppiness coming out of the first preseason game.

Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft who was making his NBA debut a day before turning 20 years old, scored 15 points, grabbed three rebounds and nabbed two steals in nearly 29 minutes. Simmons, the free-agent signee from the San Antonio Spurs, turned the momentum of the game around completely with his stellar defense and a couple of high-flying dunks in the second quarter. He finished with nine points, three assists and two steals in 16 minutes.

``It’s just something that I’m accustomed to – bringing the energy and trying to get guys to moving and get some easy offense for us,’’ Simmons said. ``I just have a will to win. Then, once you win, everybody gets recognized once you are winners.’’

A disappointing 29-53 last season, the Magic are hoping to make major strides this season. They are counting on their continuity with Vogel returning, individual improvement from several players and some key offseason additions to key a turnaround that they hope will get them back in contention for a playoff spot.

``I like our new open (offensive) system and we’re very fast and we had a lot of spacing and I like how we moved the ball with that first unit,’’ said Aaron Gordon, who had one of the game’s best highlights with a feed to Nikola Vucevic for a second-quarter dunk. ``It was really nice to see because the ball wasn’t sticking at all. We were getting open shots, giving up good shots to get great shots and it helped us.’’

Orlando opened the game with the same starting five that helped it finish last season on a somewhat positive note – Vucevic at center, Fournier and Gordon at forward and guards Elfrid Payton and Terrence Ross. That group struggled to make open looks early on, but rallied a bit in the second quarter to finish strong. The starters did not play in the second half.

Fournier, the Magic’s leading scorer last season, made three of four shots and scored eight points. Gordon drilled two 3-pointers and swatted a Mike Conley (four points in 14 minutes) floater and finished with eight points and three rebounds in almost 15 minutes. Vucevic chipped in six points and five rebounds, while Ross struggled with his shot (two of 10, five points). Payton, who had five triple-doubles in over the final 2 ½ months of last season, was solid with three points, five rebounds and four assists in nearly 15 minutes.

Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA draft who will celebrate his 20th birthday on Tuesday, had two dunks for his first NBA points on Monday. The 6-foot-10, 210-pound Isaac, another key cog in the Magic’s expected defensive improvement, finished with 15 points, three rebounds and a steal in 29 minutes.

``That’s crazy because I was at (level) 10 (with his nerves) for the first couple of minutes and then I got an easy dunk from Mario (Hezonja) and that kind of settled me down,’’ Isaac said. ``That helped me kind of level out a little bit. I still feel (excitement) now because my heart is racing. I’m just happy I got through my first one OK.’’

Hezonja, who is trying to put the struggles of his first two NBA seasons behind, was aggressive and in attack mode all night. He finished with 12 points despite making just four of 12 shots and missing all five of his 3-point tries.

The Magic will hold a free open practice for fans at the Amway Center on Tuesday night. The practice starts at 6 p.m. and doors to the Amway Center open to fans at 5 p.m. The event will include a fan-driven Q-and-A with Magic players and coaches.

Orlando’s preseason opener will come on Thursday when the Magic host the Dallas Mavericks. Orlando is playing just six preseason games – fewer than the seven and eight in years prior. The Magic will face Miami (Saturday) and Cleveland (Oct. 13) at the Amway Center prior to the regular-season opener against the rival Heat on Oct. 18 at home.

Down as much as 10 points in the first half, the Magic took a brief 65-64 lead in the third period – their first advantage since the game was 12-10 early on. Because they had little consistency shooting the ball, Orlando eventually lost that lead and trailed 72-65 at the end of three quarters. The Magic connected on just 25 of their first 66 shots (37.9 percent) and only three of 20 3-pointers in game’s first three periods.

Orlando trailed 53-50 at the half largely because of its shooting foes from afar. Ross, who said before the game that he feels much more comfortable in the Orlando offense than he did at any point last season after his February trade, struggled early on. Ross drilled a corner 3-pointer for Orlando’s first points of the night, but he ended up making just two of 10 shots in the first half. He missed his final five tries from three, including two of them in the final minute of the second quarter that could have knotted the score.

Simmons completely changed the temperature of the game in the second quarter with some stellar play on both ends of the floor. He stripped Wade Baldwin near the half-court stripe and dunked on the other end. He then converted another dunk in transition and seconds later he pushed the pace to get Hezonja an easy layup. In nine minutes of first-half action, Simmons scored seven points, handed out two assists and recorded the steal.

``Guys were showing me support early and I think this is going to be a great group of guys because we’re all young and we’re relatable,’’ said Simmons, who repeatedly brought his teammates off the bench with two thunderous dunks. ``(Bringing energy), that’s what I live for and that’s what I take pride in doing.’’

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.