Postgame Report: Magic at Blazers

By John Denton
Nov. 15, 2017

PORTLAND – At their best a couple of times earlier in the season when things looked bleak, a fatigued Orlando Magic squad went into Wednesday’s final game of their four-game road trip counting on their resilience to carry them through.

For most of the first half, Orlando once again looked like a strong-minded team ready to put adversity in its rear-view mirror and rack up another impressive road victory. Then, as so often is the case with teams tired out by the weariness from being on the road for an extended stretch, the Magic saw the bottom fall out on their promising start to the night.

Once up as much as 14 points in the early going, Orlando came completely unglued in a six-minute stretch of the second quarter. The Magic ultimately recovered in a gritty, back-and-forth second half, but they simply didn’t make enough plays down the stretch in a disappointing 99-94 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

``It’s a road game and things are going to happen, but we were right there and I think that speaks volumes,’’ said Magic point guard Elfrid Payton said. ``I don’t feel like we played our best game or even close to it and we were still in the game. We’ve just got to find a way to grind some of these games out – especially on the road.’’

Orlando (8-7) lost for a third consecutive time – a first on the season for a Magic team that was once 6-2 before injuries that hit them hard. The defeat dropped the Magic to 1-3 on a lengthy West Coast road trip that opened with a victory, but frustratingly concluded with three straight defeats.

Down much of the second half after the game-turning stretch of the second quarter – when it turned the ball over five times in a 10-possession stretch – Orlando rallied to grab an 81-80 lead with 6:52 to play on a 3-point shot by Evan Fournier. However, the Magic hit another dry spell at the most inopportune time, going the next 3:48 with just one basket by Payton. During that stretch, Portland surged into the lead (89-83) and never looked back.

When former Orlando guard Shabazz Napier (19 points and five 3-pointers) and C.J. McCollum (24 points and four 3-pointers) drilled consecutive threes, Orlando’s hopes of a victory were completely gone.

``For the most part, but I mean, you always want a little better,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said when asked about his team’s shot selection down the stretch. ``There’s always a handful (of possessions) in there when they were making their run where we were set up for something quick. I think not taking care of the basketball during that last stretch was the biggest factor.’’

Napier made 32.7 percent of his 3-point shots during his one season in Orlando (2015-16), but he drilled all five of his shots from beyond the arc on Wednesday night. Damian Lillard also scored 26 points and made another five 3-pointers to buoy Portland (8-6). The Blazers carved up Orlando’s defense for season-best 14 3-pointers.

``The focus is on (Lillard and McCollum) and when you do a good job of those guys and you have an open Napier who can knock down shots, it makes the job even tougher,’’ Fournier said. ``They played a good game. It’s a tough coverage with the big fella (Jusuf Nurkic) down there too. It’s a tough coverage.’’

Fournier, who came into the game as one of only three players in the NBA to be shooting at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line, scored 22 points. He hit eight of 17 shots, two of six 3-pointers and all four of his free throws on Wednesday.

Payton scored 14 points, but he had all kinds of trouble defensively against Portland’s guards and when he was switched onto former Magic forward Maurice Harkless (six points). Jonathon Simmons scored 16 points off the bench, while Marreese Speights chipped in 10 points in 16 minutes.

Nikola Vucevic, who has averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds against Portland over his career, scored nine in the first quarter, but he finished with just 11 points and 10 rebounds. Orlando shot well enough to win (46.8 percent) with 11 3-pointers, but it was undone by 15 turnovers, a defense that surrendered too many threes and an offense that too often bogged down.

``I thought we got stuck too much with just pick-and-roll and we weren’t getting everybody moving and involved to get different looks,’’ Vucevic said. ``Whenever we made them work defensively, they struggled to contain us. We just needed to do a better job on that (offensive) end.’’

Wednesday’s game was the final of a four-stop, eight-day road trip. Orlando started the trip with a win in Phoenix, but it got shelled a night later in Denver against the well-rested Nuggets. The Magic were tied at the half against Golden State on Monday, but ultimately lost because of a one-sided third quarter keyed by superstar forward Kevin Durant. On Wednesday, with a shot to go 2-2 on the trip, the Magic struggled mightily at the ends of both halves.

``We just get in those stretches where for some reason we go away from (their movement offense) and we have to figure out why,’’ Vucevic said. ``We have to understand if we keep doing that, we’re going to struggle. Nobody in this locker room is a player who can just go one-on-one like the greats in the league. We have to play as a team. We did that at the start of the game and it was great basketball. … We have to do it 48 minutes and if we don’t, we see what will happen.’’

Rather than subject their players to an all-night flight and an early-morning arrival, the Magic stayed in Portland after the game. The team is scheduled to fly back to Central Florida on Thursday. The Magic face the Utah Jazz on Saturday at the Amway Center.

Down four at the half, Orlando stayed close in the third period thanks to some aggressive driving from Simmons and some clutch shooting from Fournier to rescue several choppy possessions. Fournier had 11 points and a 3-pointer in the third period, while Simmons accounted for five points just after halftime. Their play helped the Magic head into the fourth quarter down just 75-71 and still within striking distance.

The Magic trailed 51-47 at the half – something that had to be particularly frustrating to them considering that they held a seemingly safe 47-34 lead midway through the second quarter. However, Portland used a momentum-swinging 17-0 burst in the second quarter – one fueled largely by Magic mistakes – to grab the lead before intermission.

Over the final 5:44 of the second period, Orlando missed all seven of its shots and turned the ball over five times. One of the miscues – a ball slapped off the knee of Fournier – resulted in a nose-to-nose spat between McCollum and the Magic forward. Fournier pushed McCollum away when the guard started chirping at him and both players went nose-to-nose, resulting in double technical fouls.

Despite the loss, Vogel still thought the Magic showed a resilience in fighting through a couple of rough stretches and giving themselves a chance to win in a hostile environment. After all, Orlando was just a stretch or two away from going 2-2 on one of its most difficult road trips of the season.

``I like the team we have. We have a good team,’’ Vogel said confidently. ``We knew this was going to be a tough trip – we were hoping to get more than one win – but we have to lick our wounds and get back on the winning track when we get home.’’

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