Postgame Report: Magic at Clippers

by John Denton

LOS ANGELES – With his Los Angeles Clippers having used 31 different starting lineups because of injuries, trades and turmoil, there are times when head coach Doc Rivers thinks of his team as underdogs kind of like the Orlando Magic’s famed ``Heart and Hustle’’ roster from the 1999-2000 season.

Rivers was the coach of that Magic team that featured scrappy overachievers such as Darrell Armstrong, Ben Wallace, Bo Outlaw, Monty Williams and Chucky Atkins. It not only won 41 games, but it won Rivers the NBA’s Coach of the Year award in his first year as a coach.

To this day, Rivers still calls that Magic team the favorite one he’s ever coached in 19 seasons of stalking the sidelines. However, his current Clippers team – one that rallied back from nine points down in the second half to beat Orlando 113-105 on Saturday night at Staples Center – is gaining quickly because of its similarly plucky nature.

Lou Williams scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to break the hearts of the victory-starved Magic (20-47). Orlando has now followed up last week’s two-game winning streak with four consecutive road defeats. Meanwhile, the Clippers (36-29) stayed in the top eight in the rugged Western Conference and continued to be one the NBA’s surprise teams on the season.

``It’s been a tough year in some ways, but it’s been an enjoyable year,’’ Rivers said. ``I’ve said this before – this (Clippers) team reminds me of my first year in coaching with Darrell (Armstrong) and all of those (Magic) guys because they don’t blink, and they keep doing it. They’ve beaten all the good teams and they’ve been down in a lot of the games. There have been nights when we’ve had four guys and five guys out and they keep playing.’’

The Clippers kept playing on playing on Saturday despite the Magic having an 81-72 lead with 5:51 to play in the third quarter. Orlando opened the game trailing 10-0, but remarkably rallied to lead by two at halftime and heading into the fourth quarter. However, the Clippers grabbed control of the game with a 14-3 burst to open the final period. Williams, who scored 31 against the Magic in a Dec. 13 win in Orlando, had 10 of those 14 points by shaking free for a couple of short jumpers and drilling two 3-pointers over Magic rookie Wes Iwundu.

``(The Clippers) played lights out and you’ve got to tip your hat to them,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said of a Clippers team that is 11-4 over its last 15 games. ``They’re playing as well as anybody since the trade (of Blake Griffin) and we couldn’t stop them during that (early-fourth-quarter) stretch.’’

Magic guard Jonathon Simmons delivered his second straight strong game with 24 points and seven assists, while D.J. Augustin scored 11 of his 19 points in the third quarter. Shelvin Mack chipped in 16 points off the bench, while rookie forward Jonathan Isaac had nine points and four steals in 25 minutes.

``I was just taking what the defense gave me and trying to install energy while I’m on the floor and hopefully it gets contagious,’’ Simmons said. ``(Lou Williams) is just a seasoned vet and he’s been that same way his whole career. We had some younger guys and myself guarding him tonight, but he just got some shots going and you can’t take nothing from him. You just try and contain guys like him and hope that they miss.’’

Things didn’t go well for center Nikola Vucevic and forward Mario Hezonja. Vucevic had 17 points and 10 rebounds despite making just eight of 20 shots. As for Hezonja – who had been significantly better this season as a starter instead of a reserve – went long stretches without giving the Magic much and finished with five points, five rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes.

Former Magic forward Tobias Harris scored 21 points – his fourth straight 20-point game and the longest such stretch since April of 2013 when he wore a Magic uniform. DeAndre Jordan had nine points and 18 rebounds, while Milos Teodosic (15 points and seven assists) and Montrez Harrell (13 points) hurt Orlando off the L.A. bench.

The Clippers, who beat Cleveland and LeBron James a night earlier at Staples Center, has now won 11 of 13 meetings against the Magic since the 2011-12 season and each of the last nine meetings. L.A. won 106-95 in Orlando on Dec. 13 behind 31 points from Lou Williams.

Orlando was without leading scorers Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier for a second straight game – a predicament that might be its reality for an extended period of time. Gordon, Orlando’s top scorer at 18.3 points per game, suffered a concussion on Wednesday – his second of the season and a third in the past 23 months. Fournier sprained the MCL in his left knee on Wednesday and will likely be out for a matter of weeks.

The Magic were playing at Staples Center for the second time in four nights. The last time Orlando played in one of the league’s largest arenas, they left heartbroken and angered by the result. The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Magic 108-107 on Wednesday when referees took the final possession of the game away from Orlando on a ruling the NBA league office deemed to be incorrect.

Saturday’s game was Orlando’s fourth on this mammoth five-game, 10-day road trip – the longest of the season. Orlando lost in Utah on Monday, to the Lakers on Wednesday and in Sacramento on Friday. The Magic will have Sunday off after playing two games in as many nights before practicing on Monday and closing their trip in San Antonio on Tuesday.

Orlando led 58-56 at the half – a somewhat incredible accomplishment considering that it fell behind 10-0 in the opening minutes of the game. The Magic used a 22-11 run midway through the first quarter to take their first lead and they stayed within striking distance until a push at the end of the second quarter gave them the halftime lead.

Up two at the break, Orlando rode some stellar shooting and heady play in the third quarter from Augustin to build their largest lead of the night. The Magic surged ahead by as much as nine and took an 89-87 lead into the fourth quarter. Augustin scored 11 points in the third quarter – five of them coming on free throws and another two on a nifty reverse layup as he was fouled by Wesley Johnson.

Los Angeles heated up over the final five minutes of the third period, trimming Orlando’s nine-point lead to two by the start of the fourth. From there, Williams – who is an All-NBA type of season at this latter stage of his career – took over in the fourth and secured the victory for the plucky Clippers.

``I honestly didn’t know (Lou Williams) was like that, and seeing it up close was crazy,’’ said Isaac, Orlando’s 20-year-old rookie. ``He is a great player and I really struggled guarding him. Just his ability to get to the rim and pass and knock down those 3-pointers with a hand in his face, it was tough.’’

Added Vogel: ``Lou Williams is playing the best basketball of his career. And he’s had a good career.’’

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.