By John Denton Jan. 9, 2018
DALLAS – Just minutes after incredibly splitting two foes and scissor-kicking his legs in air as he completed a three-point play, Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon ratcheted up the degree of difficulty on another jaw-dropping play.
After teammate Wes Iwundu missed a shot, Gordon jumped into the air five times to tip the ball and keep it away from Dallas big men Salah Mejri and Harrison Barnes. Then, after collecting himself and head-faking, Gordon sprung into the air so high that he was able to throw the ball through the rim as he was hit by the 7-foot-2 Mejri.
If Gordon was disappointed by being benched at the beginning of the game for what the Magic called a violation of team rules, he certainly didn’t show it with his effort. He did everything in his power to keep the Magic close on Tuesday, but they simply didn’t play tough enough or well enough defensively in the second half to overtake the Dallas Mavericks in a 114-99 loss at American Airlines Center.
The Magic limited the Mavs to 36.4 percent shooting in the first half, but Dallas gashed Orlando’s defense for 69.2 percent shooting over the final two quarters.
``We just didn’t play tough enough for long enough, and within our coverages we played not tough enough,’’ frustrated Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``They’ve just got to do better and we’ve got to figure that out.’’
Gordon, Orlando’s leading scorer and a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, had previously started all 31 games that he had played in this season. He entered the game with 5:31 remaining in the first period and later he was a part of the starting five to open the second half.
On the night, Gordon didn’t shoot well (six of 16 from the floor and one of seven from 3-point range), but he still scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds. He drilled a 20-foot jumper to get the Magic within 100-96 with 4:17 to play, but their surge would be blunted by another scoring spree from the Dallas offense.
Gordon said that his starting demotion – a penalty that won’t extend beyond Tuesday – was because of a recent tardiness issue.
``Obviously, it hurts and I want to be on the floor as much as I can and starting, so I understand that time management is crucial and being punctual is part of character and having a high character leads into winning,’’ Gordon said. ``It’s the little things that matter and I understand why they did it.’’
The Magic (12-29) lost for a fifth straight game and for the 14th time in the past 15 games. Orlando has struggled for years in Dallas, losing six years in a row there and on 16 of the past 19 trips deep in the heart of Texas.
This loss could be blamed on the Magic giving up the first nine points of the third quarter and allowing 39 points in the period just after halftime. Veteran forward Marreese Speights, who played well with 13 points, 10 rebounds and two 3-pointers, said the Magic must play with 48 minutes of desperation if they want to reverse their season.
``We’ve got to get better with the third quarter because we always come out and let them make a run,’’ said Speights, who was also referring to Cleveland’s 8-0 burst to start the second half against the Magic last Saturday. ``Not just the first unit, but all of us as a group, we’ve got to slow them down. That’s the scouting report for other people – come out in the third quarter and hit us in the mouth. It’s been working and we’ve got to stop it.
``It’s got to be the whole game and even in the shootaround in the morning, we’ve got to have that focus,’’ Speights continued. ``We’ve got to come to the arena with no (joking) and being focused. When you’ve been losing, you’ve got to get tired of it and get some wins. It starts early in the morning and being ready to play so that you can get a win.’’
Dallas (14-28) ended a three-game skid that had come in the heels of a four-game winning spree to end 2017. The Mavs have beaten the Magic in 10 of the last 12 meetings. Dallas legend Dirk Nowitzki had a strong night despite missing his first four shots of the game. He finished with 20 points, while rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. also scored 20. Wesley Matthews chipped in 16, while Barnes added 15.
D.J. Augustin closed the game at point guard and finished with 18 points and four 3-pointers. Marreese Speights played well off the Magic bench and pumped in 13 points, 10 rebounds and two 3-pointers. Mario Hezonja chipped in 14 points, while Evan Fournier added 12.
Orlando got guard Jonathon Simmons back on Tuesday after he had missed the last game-and-a-half because of back spasms. Simmons, who is averaging a career-best 14.3 points per game in his first season in Orlando, came into the night shooting just 39.2 percent over his last 10 games. On Tuesday, Simmons missed six of his seven shots and finished with just three points.
Said Vogel of Simmons: ``Rusty, like he hadn’t practiced in whatever it is he’s been out.’’
Orlando started the night strong defensively, but Dallas ended up making 51.8 percent from the floor with nine 3-pointers. The Magic offered up little defensive resistance in a second half in which the Mavericks scored 71 points.
``I think it was just a lack of energy and a lack of extra efforts. It’s a game of multiple efforts and I don’t think they were there,’’ Gordon said of Orlando’s second-half defense. ``I can start with my part and there were a couple of plays where I wish I could give more and that’s a terrible feeling to have coming off the basketball court.’’
The Magic will be back in action on Wednesday for a second game in as many nights. Orlando will face the Bucks (21-18) in Milwaukee in the first meeting of the season between the two teams. The Bucks were throttled in Indiana on Monday, but will have the rest advantage after being off on Tuesday. Orlando will conclude its three-game road trip in Washington on Friday.
In what has become something of a trend, the Magic were outplayed at the start of the third quarter, costing them a halftime lead. Orlando was up five at intermission, but that advantage quickly disappeared when Dallas scored the first nine points of the second half. That poor stretch came just four nights after Orlando allowed Cleveland to open the second half with eight straight points.
The poor start to the third quarter put Orlando into a hole and it would not recover the rest of the period. Despite a couple of spectacular efforts from Gordon in the period, the Magic headed into the fourth quarter staring up at an 82-75 deficit.
``We’ve just got to get a jump, jump out and make them call the first time out and get three stops in a row,’’ Gordon said of what needs to change in starting second halves. ``That’s where we go from here, knowing exactly what our intentions are coming out of halftime – getting three stops in a row.’’
Despite not having Gordon in the early going, Orlando played well on both ends of the floor and led the Mavericks 48-43 at intermission. The Magic saw an early five-point lead turn into a nine-point deficit, but they turned the game around with a burst of their own in the second quarter. An 18-4 run, sparked by the play of Augustin and Speights, gave the Magic a lead they would not surrender the rest of the opening half.
However, none of it would matter as Orlando came unglued in the second half. Gordon had the two spectacular plays on the offensive end in the third quarters, but the Magic didn’t play with anywhere near enough aggression in the third period to beat a Dallas team desperate for a victory after dropping three straight games.
Afterward, Vogel’s exasperation with his struggling team was apparent in his harsh criticisms of the Magic.
``Our starting group isn’t playing well, so the start of the game and the (start of the) third quarter, it hasn’t been good,’’ Vogel said. ``At halftime, we talked about what the third quarter needed to look like and it didn’t translate out to that.
``(The Mavericks) executed well, but we played not tough enough in a lot of ways,’’ Vogel added. ``… Pretty loudly and clearly (the message that the team has to play well for 48 minutes).’’
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.