SACRAMENTO – In the NBA, teams often take a hopeful, glass-half-full approach when hit by a rash of injuries, viewing them this way: One player’s misfortune is another player’s opportunity.
Golden opportunities came along on Friday night for Orlando Magic youngsters Mario Hezonja and Jonathan Isaac, who were replacing leading scorers Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier because of injuries. Other than a few brief flashes, their starts on Friday in Sacramento proved to be opportunities squandered.
Hezonja and Isaac both got off to slow starts in a season-low first half for the Magic, and they never recovered as Orlando trailed wire-to-wire and lost 94-88 to the Kings at Golden 1 Center.
``One thing we talked about was that our spacing got messed up with putting me into the starting lineup and ‘Rio, as well,’’ Isaac analyzed afterward. ``Some of us aren’t used to playing certain positions and that messed up our spacing. That was kind of the tell-tale sign of us struggling offensively – guys messing up the spacing by being at new positions.’’
Orlando (20-46) looked road-weary and mostly punch-less on the offensive end of the floor against Sacramento (21-45), which came into the game having lost nine of 12 games and was missing many of its better players because of injuries. The Magic, who are in the midst of a grueling five-game, 10-day road trip, scored only 36 points in the first half and shot just 42.3 percent from the floor. They connected on just nine of 29 3-point shots for the game.
``I just felt like we had no rhythm out there, we were flat and could never get going,’’ said center Nikola Vucevic, who made just five of 11 shots and scored 13 points. ``We’d make a little run and get close and (the Kings) would do it again to us and (boost) the lead. For some reason, we didn’t have any flow. The whole game, we didn’t bring much, and it was one of the worst games of the year.’’
Hezonja and Isaac both started on Friday, but they had little to show for the promotions. Hezonja, who had been significantly better this season as a starter than a reserve, made just five of 13 shots and scored 11 points in 33 minutes. Isaac, who is still rounding himself into shape after missing nearly three months because of an ankle issue, connected on two corner 3-pointers, but missed six other shots while scoring six points in 25 minutes of action.
Isaac’s rust was apparent late in the night when he stepped in front of a Garrett Temple pass and seemed to be on his way to a breakaway dunk. However, the 6-foot-11, 222-pounder fumbled the dribble out of bounds for another of Orlando’s 14 turnovers.
``As soon as I hit (the basketball) my first thing was just thinking about the rim and not grabbing the ball,’’ Isaac said with a disappointed laugh. ``I was just thinking about how hard I was going to dunk it.’’
Jonathon Simmons was a lone bright spot for Orlando, making nine of 15 shots and scoring 25 points. D.J. Augustin, who was questionable to play because of a mild ankle sprain, scored 12 points and handed out seven assists.
Gordon, a native of nearby San Jose who had 35 family and friends in attendance, didn’t play after suffering a concussion in Wednesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Fournier was also injured in that game, suffering a sprained MCL to his left knee. That injury could keep him out for an extended period of time. Gordon (18.3 ppg.) and Fournier (17.8 ppg.) have been the Magic’s primary offensive cogs all season, combining to lead the team in scoring 32 times.
Playing without them slowed the Magic’s offense to a sluggish crawl on Friday night.
``You’re losing your two leading scorers and other guys have the ability to step up, but we just weren’t quite in sync,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``I didn’t like the attention to detail on our assignments and our spacing and our screening was really poor. Filling our spots in transition was poor. And we didn’t make great decisions with guys who haven’t been in there.’’
Temple, who scored a career-best 34 points in Sacramento’s defeat of the Magic in Orlando in January, had 23 points for the Kings, who won at home for just the 11th time all season. That’s the second-fewest home victories in the NBA this season, ahead of only Phoenix’s nine home wins.
Former Magic guard Vince Carter, a native of Daytona Beach, scored 15 points. Center Kosta Koufos scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for the injury-ravaged Kings.
The Magic will be back in action on Saturday night when they face the Clippers in Los Angeles. It will be Orlando’s second stop in L.A. during this road trip. Also, the Magic have little time to try and cure all that ails them with several new pieces in their rotation.
``There are details that go into executing on the offensive end. If you are spaced poorly every time down and you don’t screen anyone, the greatest scorers in the world aren’t going to be able to make shots,’’ Vogel fumed. ``So, we have to improve out offensive execution.’’
Down just five at the half despite scoring only 36 points, the Magic’s woes continued in the third quarter and they saw the deficit grow to as much as 15 points.
Orlando looked totally out of sync and very much in need of a go-to scorer in a first half in which it trailed 41-36 at intermission. The Magic needed a corner 3-pointer from Isaac in the final seconds of the second quarter to get to 36 points, which tied for the lowest point total in any half this season. Also, it was the lowest point total of the season in a first half, sinking two points lower than the 38 scored in the first 24 minutes against Boston back in November.
Hezonja had been much better this season as a starter as opposed to playing off the bench, but he missed five of his six shots early on. His only basket was a thing of beauty as he stole a Skal Labissiere pass, drove hard to the rim and converted a thunderous reverse dunk over Buddy Hield.
Isaac, who has struggled on the offensive end since returning from the ankle injury that knocked him out of two months of action, missed his first four shots. In addition to swatting a Frank Mason shot out to the 3-pointer line, Isaac confidently buried the 3-pointer just before the halftime horn.
``(Hezonja) had a couple of plays early where he didn’t finish at the rim and when you miss your first couple of shots you lose a little confidence,’’ Vogel said. ``(Isaac) is a 20-year-old young man who is still finding his way on the offensive end. I encouraged him to be more aggressive than he’s been. To his credit, he plays within himself, but there’s going to be some growing pains that come along with that. I was just happy with the spirit that he played with.’’
Augustin, one of Orlando’s most experienced players, had some words of encouragement and some stern advice for Isaac in the guts of the game when he seemed to shy away from launching shots after his poor start. It’s his hope that the rookie will use a rough night like Friday as a learning tool going forward.
``A couple of times tonight he passed up some open shots and I told him, `Shoot it. That’s the only way you’re going to get your confidence,’’’ Augustin said. ``In the second half he did that, and I was happy to see that.’’
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