Postgame Report: Magic vs. Blazers

By John Denton
Dec. 15, 2017

ORLANDO – Looking on as a full-strength Portland Trail Blazers team rode the high-octane firepower of superstar guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel had to be equal parts in awe and extremely jealous on Friday.

Still without four of its most important players because of injuries, Orlando faced an uphill climb coming into the game and then it was hit with several harsh doses of reality as Lillard and McCollum played like stars and sparked their Portland teammates.

Orlando briefly got standout forward Aaron Gordon back from nearly a week off after suffering a concussion, but it did little to help the short-handed and struggling Magic in a frustration-filled 95-88 loss to Portland.

The Magic’s loss proved to be extra costly as Gordon strained his right calf muscle midway through the fourth quarter. The forward, who scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds in 24 minutes, grabbed at the back of his right leg as he raced up the court while trying to stop a fast break. Seconds later, Gordon asked out of the game and limped straight to the locker room.

In the game, Gordon made his first four shots, but missed his final six. His availability for the upcoming two road games is likely in serious jeopardy with the strained leg muscle.

The injury to Gordon was just another hit to an already dinged Magic team that struggled in keeping up with Lillard, McCollum and the Blazers (15-13).

``This team, I wonder why they lose games, to be honest with you,’’ Vogel said of the Blazers prior to tipoff on Friday.

Orlando (11-19) dropped its fourth straight game during a time that it hoped to rack up victories and get back over .500. Instead, the Magic continued to backslide with key pieces Evan Fournier (sprained ankle), Terrence Ross (sprained knee), Jonathan Isaac (sprained ankle) and Arron Afflalo (back spasms) out of action again. Those absences continued to rob the Magic of depth and scoring punch, making it extremely difficult to keep pace with star-studded teams like Portland (15-13).

Unlike on Wednesday, when the Magic seemed to play with little fire and fight, they battled the Blazers throughout on Friday and might have won if not for a poor stretch spanning the first and second quarters. Vogel had a fiery film session with the Magic’s players on Thursday, imploring them to show more grit and hustle in hopes that they could overcome all of the injury losses.

Even in defeat, Vogel found a silver lining in the way the short-handed Magic battled.

``We had some droughts early that put us behind by 10 or 12 and then 17, and then you are fighting uphill and you need the fourth quarter to be almost perfect,’’ Vogel said. ``But, listen, I was really proud of our guys fight, heart and the energy they played with. I think they responded to a spirited couple of days with the film session and practice that we had (on Thursday). We played a much stronger basketball game than we did against the Clippers. … We’re banged up, but guys are fighting and playing with heart.’’

Lillard scored 21 points and made three 3-pointers and McCollum chipped in 20 points as Portland won in Florida for the second time in three nights. On Wednesday, the Blazers rallied from 16 down to beat the Miami Heat.

On Friday, no Blazers’ comeback was needed.

Despite being short-handed, Orlando fought gamely to stay in the game and got within 86-81 with 3:06 to play on a Nikola Vucevic post move. The Magic would get within five once again when Jonathon Simmons made two free throws with 44 seconds left to play. Orlando might have gotten even closer had guard D.J. Augustin not been whistled for a controversial foul of McCollum with 43.3 seconds remaining as he stripped the ball away.

Vucevic, who registered the first triple-double of his career last week while trying to carry the Magic, scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Simmons chipped in 15 points and Augustin added 14 points off the bench.

``We got down bad where we didn’t execute like we could have because we were taking quick shots offensively and those led to fastbreaks,’’ Vucevic said. ``We tried to pick it up and come back, but they’re a good team and they know how to handle the lead and finish it off. Lillard and McCollum handled the ball at the end and you don’t have too much chance against them.’’

Orlando had very little production otherwise. Marreese Speights, a key cog off the bench at times this season, made just one of nine shots and missed five of his six 3-point attempts. Orlando shot just 38.1 percent from the floor and connected on just 10 of 29 3-point tries.

Portland hit 43 percent of its shots and had eight 3-pointers.

``We just need to focus a little better as a whole group and play a little harder,’’ Simmons said. ``We just have to play more together and pay more attention to detail of the opponents. We can’t wait until the fourth quarter to start because they were already controlling the game. We have to play 48 minutes.’’

Gordon was playing in a game for the first time since suffering a concussion a week earlier in a home loss to the Denver Nuggets. Gordon, who was cleared to play on Friday morning by an independent physician, was injured when he ran face-first into the shoulder of Denver guard Gary Harris.

Now, the Magic’s leading scorer (tied with Fournier at 18.3 points per game) has a calf strain that could keep him out a matter of days, if not weeks.

``He’s extremely frustrated that he had to miss the last couple of games with the concussion, so I can assure you that he’s even more frustrated now,’’ Vogel said of Gordon. ``He’s got a calf strain and we’ll get a MRI (on Saturday) and hopefully it’s not too bad.’’
Friday’s outcome allowed Portland to sweep the season series between the two teams. Back on Nov. 15, the Blazers wiped out an early 14-point deficit before halftime and outlasted a road-weary Magic team 99-94.

Orlando now hits the road for much of the next week, playing in Detroit on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. tipoff) and in Chicago on Wednesday. The Magic won’t be back at the Amway Center until Friday when it hosts the New Orleans Pelicans.

Down seven at the half, the Magic came dangerously close to getting blown out early in the third quarter when Portland expanded the lead out to 17 points. But Orlando would not go away, getting to within seven and heading into the fourth quarter down just 75-66.

Gordon’s struggles late in the first half carried over to the third period when he missed all four of his field goal attempts. He did bury three free throws – the first points he scored since the four-minute mark of the first quarter.

Orlando got off to a well enough start, leading by six in the early going and making six of its first nine shots. However, Orlando’s lack of depth was once again exposed when Vogel went to the bench. With five reserves on the floor, the Magic went through a stretch where they made just two of 14 shots and surrendered the lead – one they wouldn’t get back the rest of the second quarter and left them trailing 50-43 at intermission.

It’s a hole the Magic would never dig their way out of because of Portland’s firepower and their own lack of punch because of how the injuries have piled up.

Not that the Magic are looking for pity, Vucevic stressed. Somehow, some way the team has to find a way to end yet another losing streak that threatens their season.

``We still have good players in this locker room and we try to go out there and win. But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves at any point,’’ said Vucevic, who made 12 of 20 shots and two of five threes on Friday. ``Injuries are a part of what we do. Sometimes, you’re going to have guys down and sometimes the other team is going to have guys down. It is what is and you can’t use (injuries) as an excuse.’’

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