Postgame Report: Magic vs. Clippers

By John Denton
Dec. 13, 2017

ORLANDO – If there’s any team in the NBA that understands the injury-ravaged plight of the staggered Orlando Magic right now, it’s the equally battered and bruised Los Angeles Clippers.

Not that the short-handed, Blake Griffin-less Clippers took any pity on the slumping Magic on Wednesday night.

The Clippers didn’t have Griffin and three other starters, but they still had more than enough firepower to outlast a Magic squad missing five of its key players, most notably leading scorers Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier.

Super sub Lou Williams came off the bench to score 31 points and center DeAndre Jordan added 16 points and 20 rebounds as Los Angeles predictably beat the reeling Magic 106-95 at the Amway Center.

``(Playing short-handed) isn’t easy and it’s part of the job that we do and injuries are a part of the game,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who made just seven of 16 shots and finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes. ``Unfortunately we have a big amount of guys out who have huge roles on our team, so it’d definitely not easy to deal with. But the Clippers have the same issues, missing three starters, so (injuries) weren’t the only reasons that we lost tonight.’’

The Clippers (11-15) lost another starter, Orlando native Austin Rivers, to a concussion just before halftime. Still, they shot 54 percent in the second half and were never really challenged after the midpoint of the third period.

Orlando (11-18) looks like a shell of the team that opened the season 6-2 and still has designs on making the playoffs because of a spate of injuries. Early in the season, it was the point guard position that was shelled by injuries with Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin going down. Now, various maladies have taken away many of Orlando’s wing players, causing it to search far and wide for any kind of dependable offense at all.

Since sitting at an encouraging 8-4 on Nov. 10, the Magic have dropped three straight games and 14 of the past 17.

The Magic shot just 42 percent from the floor on Wednesday and connected on just nine of 27 3-point shots. The Clippers weren’t much better – they shot 44.3 percent – but they still mustered enough offense to win their third straight game of the season. L.A. drilled 12 3-pointers.

``We have enough to (compete), but we need everyone to play at their best and we will be OK,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel surmised. ``Some guys had good nights and some struggled. There were different portions of the game where guys struggled and we had some droughts in particular in the second quarter. You can’t do that when you are undermanned.’’

The Clippers, which held a 32-16 advantage in the second quarter, have beaten the Magic eight straight times over the last four-plus seasons, including four in a row at the Amway Center. Williams was nearly a one-man wrecking crew for L.A., making 11 of 22 shots and three of six 3-pointers while also handing out eight assists. Many of those assists led to uncontested dunks for Jordan.

``The first quarter was pretty awful. We couldn’t score and we couldn’t defend,’’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. ``After that, we started defending and our energy went up. It’s amazing how once you start defending, you start scoring. I thought those two things went hand in hand.’’

Orlando got 20 points, eight assists and six rebounds from guard Jonathon Simmons, who continues to play well since being moved into the starting lineup three weeks ago. Mario Hezonja got off to a stellar start, but he mustered little production in the second half and finished with a season-high 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.

Elfrid Payton added 13 points, four rebounds and four assists. Orlando’s bench was outscored 31-25 by Williams and 62-25 by the Clippers’ reserves in totality.

``For us, we’ve just got to play harder and that’s our problem right now,’’ said backup center Bismack Biyombo, who had six points, eight rebounds and a blocked shot in 16 minutes. ``It’s not being short-handed. We have enough players to win a ball game and we have talent, but we’ve just got to play harder at every position. At the end of the day, we need to all look ourselves in the mirror and ask if the job that we’re doing is right or wrong. People can say we’re short-handed, but that’s an excuse, man. We’ve still got to get out there and get it done.’’

Orlando actually led by as much as 12 early in the night before the Clippers ripped off a game-turning, momentum-swinging 14-0 run in the middle of the second quarter. The Magic, whose four second-quarter turnovers led to 12 L.A. points, surged ahead by one midway through the third period for a matter of seconds, but could never regain an edge after falling behind.

``When you have turnovers for touchdowns, that just kills you,’’ said Vogel, whose Magic turned the ball over 12 times in the game leading to 20 points for L.A. ``It killed us in Atlanta (on Saturday) and that was the message at halftime. We can make enough shots to win, but we have to take care of the basketball. We took care of it better in the second half, but when we did turn it over they were running out getting open threes or layups and that was tough to overcome.’’

The Magic were without Gordon (concussion), Fournier (sprained ankle), Terrence Ross (sprained knee), Arron Afflalo (back spasms) and rookie Jonathan Isaac (ankle sprain). Those injuries necessitated the Magic calling Jamel Artis, Adreian Payne and Khem Birch from their G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic. Wes Iwundu, who has played eight games in Lakeland himself, got his first NBA start at small forward and finished with six points, three rebounds and two assists in nearly 33 minutes. Hezonja made his second straight start at power forward.

Gordon, who suffered a concussion on Friday when he ran face-first into the shoulder of Denver guard Gary Harris, hoped to return on Wednesday after passing the first three stages of the NBA’s concussion protocol. However, the decision was made on Wednesday afternoon that Gordon wouldn’t play. He won’t be allowed back into game action until he is cleared by an independent physician.

``Well, he’s frustrated and he wants to play, but the protocols put in place here are smart with player safety in mind and you have to adhere to that,’’ Vogel said prior to tipoff. ``It’s very black and white, so there’s nothing really to get upset about.’’

Similarly, the Clippers have been forced to piece their team together all season because of a rash to injuries. Superstar forward Blake Griffin (sprained knee) missed his seventh straight game, and Patrick Beverley (knee) and Danilo Gallinari (glute) have also missed significant time this season with injuries.

The Magic will be back on the Amway Center parquet on Friday night when they face the Portland Trail Blazers. Their hope has to be to get Gordon back and Isaac could have an outside chance of playing for the first time in a month if all goes well in practice on Thursday.

Down five at intermission, the Magic tried rallying in the third period behind some aggressive play from Simmons. They stormed to a 55-54 lead by making five of the first eight shots of the second half, but the advantage would be short-lived. The Clippers eventually got to the start of the fourth with a 74-68 lead – a spread set up by the do-everything play of Williams and Jordan.

With Orlando looking for contributors, Hezonja had his best stretch of the season in the first half. Not only did he score 12 points on four of six shooting, he chipped in six rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots in the first half. H wasn’t nearly as effective in the second half, but the Magic were encouraged by the flashes from the third-year pro.

``The kid has some ability,’’ Vogel said of Hezonja, who made six of 11 shots and two of six 3-pointers. ``He’s struggled, obviously, the last couple of years to find his niche, but if he’s getting consistent minutes he’s going to show flashes like that. It’s part of the development of a young player.’’

Vucevic, who was spectacular on Saturday in compiling the first triple-double performance of his career, was critical of the Magic’s energy and effort on Wednesday. For whatever reason, Vucevic said, the Magic seemed lifeless and could never find a spark to get themselves going. That has to change, the 7-footer said, especially with the team playing short-handed because of injuries.

``We didn’t play with enough energy throughout the whole game and there wasn’t much excitement or much going on and it was just kind of flat out there,’’ Vucevic said. ``We were just going up and down the court. I feel like both teams did that and then they picked it up and we didn’t respond.

``We couldn’t ever really get a flow or rhythm and even when we made a big defensive play or had a block, we didn’t run like we know that can,’’ he added. ``I don’t know what it was, but we need to look at the tape and see. We need to play with more energy, especially when we have guys who are down and out. You need more energy then, to make up for the guys who are out.’’

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