Postgame Report: Magic at Jazz

by John Denton

SALT LAKE CITY – The positives were few for the Orlando Magic on a night when they knew full-well that their best would be required to defeat the surging Utah Jazz. Still, the Magic were able to cull this gleaming nugget from an otherwise forgettable game: Rookie Jonathan Isaac showed more signs of being the defensive stopper that they so desperately need.

Orlando struggled shooting the ball all night – from the perimeter and in the paint against center Rudy Gobert – and gave up far too many corner threes in a humbling 94-80 loss to Utah Jazz. However, Isaac once again showed flashes of stellar defense to keep the Magic within striking distance after they lost the lead for good just before halftime.

Isaac, the Magic’s prized first-round pick from last June’s NBA Draft, missed all five of his shot attempts and both threes. However, the rookie impressively swatted two shots, drew a charge to stop a fast break and not only started the second half, but suffocated Utah forward Joe Ingles’ scoring after halftime. Ingles torched the Magic for 16 points and seven assists in the first half, but he didn’t scratch in the second half until the 2-minute mark of the fourth quarter against Isaac’s 7-foot-2 wingspan.

``He’s legit on the defensive end,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``We put him in there (in the second-half starting lineup) because Joe Ingles had 16 points and seven assists and was killing us in the first half. We put (Isaac) in there on him and he just slowed him down. It’s a heck of a weapon. He’s so young, and the future is just bright for him.’’

Orlando (20-44) never got closer than seven points of Utah (34-30) in the second half, but Jazz head coach Quin Snyder did provide a little bit of excitement when he was hit with two technical fouls, charged onto the floor and was ejected with 52.9 seconds to play. He was given a standing ovation by the sellout crowd of 18,306 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Orlando registered season lows in points (80) and shooting percentage (34.1 percent). The Magic came into the game having scored at least 100 points in each of the past 12 games – the franchise’s longest such streak since February of 1995 when Shaquille O’Neal was dominating inside. On Monday, the Magic failed to crack 35 percent from the floor and made only 11 of 34 3-point tries against a Utah defense ranked at the top of the NBA over its last 20 games.

``You’ve got to give them credit because they did a good job, but personally I missed a lot of shots that I’m confident in taking,’’ said Orlando shooting guard Evan Fournier, who scored just 12 points on four-of-18 shooting. ``So, there’s not much to say. They’re obviously a good defensive team and they have Rudy (Gobert) in the paint as the center of their defense. It puts a lot of pressure on us to finish or make good decisions. But, personally, I thought it was more me (struggling) than their defense.’’

Utah burned the Magic for 49.3 percent shooting and 10 3-pointers. Orlando played Utah even on the scoreboard in Isaac’s nearly 18 minutes on the floor, but it was a minus-14 in the 30 minutes he was out of the game.

The Magic were doomed when leading scorers Aaron Gordon (13 points) and Fournier never got going offensively. Similar to Fournier, Gordon made just four of 18 shots. Together, the two of them combined to shoot just three of 16 from 3-point range.

Isaac, who missed three-plus months with an ankle injury, is still on a minutes’ restriction, but his time was extended to 18 minutes on Monday. In that time, he gave the Magic three rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

``I feel great. In Utah, it’s tough already (with the altitude), but I felt good out there,’’ Isaac said. ``I got tired a little bit, but I felt really good – especially that second half starting. I feel like I’m ready to be in there longer if that’s what Coach needs.’’

Nikola Vucevic and Fournier dined with Gobert on Sunday night at the Utah center’s mountainside home in Salt Lake City. Vucevic (15 points and 12 rebounds) did his best to slow the 7-foot-1 center on the inside, but he had little luck as Gobert finished with 21 points, 17 rebounds and two blocked shots.

Mario Hezonja and D.J. Augustin each scored 10 for the Magic.

Donovan Mitchell, a leading candidate for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, scored 19 points for the Jazz. Ingles finished with 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

``Coach (Vogel) said Ingles was a problem in the first half and he wanted to see if I could stop him,’’ Isaac said. ``So, I was just trying to play (defense) and force him into making some mistakes.’’

Orlando came into Monday’s game riding a modest two-game winning streak. The Magic beat Detroit in overtime on Friday and then toppled Memphis on Saturday at the Amway Center. Fournier and Isaac were key contributors in both games – the guard with his 3-point shooting and the rookie with his long-armed defense.

Monday’s game was the first of a five-game, 10-day road trip for the Magic. Orlando will face the Lakers (Wednesday), Kings (Friday), Clippers (Saturday) and Spurs (March 13) on the longest road trip of the season.

``I mean, in our position, every night is tough,’’ Fournier said. ``It’s not like we’re an elite team, so we have to compete every night and play hard every night. We’re on the road for a long time and that’s going to make it harder, but every game will be hard.’’

Utah has been one of the NBA’s best teams over the past month, ripping off 15 wins in a 19-game stretch as Gobert rounded back into shape following an injury. The Jazz are desperately trying to play their way back into the playoff chase and started the night two games back of the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets.

The Magic came into the game hoping to exact some revenge on Utah for the 125-85 beating they put on them at the Amway Center in mid-November. Monday’s result meant that the Jazz swept the season series for a second straight season.

Down 10 at the half after a poor finish to the second quarter, the Magic opened the second half with Isaac in the starting lineup in place of Jonathon Simmons. The 6-foot-11 rookie checked Ingles and he did not score in the third period after pouring in 16 first-half points. That defense, combined with two 3-pointers from Hezonja, allowed the Magic to get within 74-67 by the start of the fourth period.

``I felt good out there. I was just flying around and trying to be me out there,’’ Isaac said. ``I just wanted to try and help the team out with defense by using my instincts.’’

Orlando had a poor start and a poor finish to the first half and trailed the Jazz 54-44 at intermission. The Magic fell behind 9-0 before scoring and yielded a 20-5 run over the final 6:18 of the first half. In between, however, they were pretty good in pushing the Jazz to the brink.

Isaac missed all three of his shots in 8:13 of action in the opening half, but he made a tremendous impact on the defensive end. Not only did he swat Mitchell’s layup off the backboard and slap away Ekpe Udoh’s hook shot, but he drew a charge on Alec Burks to stop a fast break, swiped a steal and corralled two rebounds.

Isaac was moved into the starting five to open the second half in order to try and combat the play of Ingles. The small forward carved Orlando up with 16 points, seven assists and four 3-pointers in the first 24 minutes of the game. He worked well with Gobert (12 points and nine rebounds early on) on pick-and-roll plays as both players were a plus-15 while on the floor in the opening half.

Vogel said he isn’t worried one bit about Isaac’s confidence or his wayward jump shot – as long as he keeps impacting games on the defensive end of the floor as he did once again on Monday.

``I’m not worried about him at all,’’ Vogel said. ``He’s going to be fine. He knows it’s going to take time (offensively). Both ends are supposed to take time while he gets his legs under him and find his rhythm and timing. So, I’m not concerned at all.’’

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.