Postgame Report: Magic vs. Pacers

By John Denton
Nov. 20, 2017

ORLANDO – Nikola Vucevic is the Orlando Magic’s longest-tenured player, having endured five previous rebuilding seasons, so no one knows better than he how quickly things can turn around in the NBA.

But to the 7-foot center, the only thing more shocking now than this complete, 180-degree about-face by the Magic is the actual root of the problem that got the team in its latest predicament.

``I’m just surprised that we went away from what’s been working for us offensively,’’ Vucevic said on Monday night after the Magic turned the ball over 22 times, shot just 41.7 percent and fell 105-97 to the Indiana Pacers for a fifth consecutive defeat.

``It surprises me and I don’t understand why because (the early-season style of offense) was so good for everybody, everybody was able to score and everybody was having fun out there,’’ Vucevic continued. ``That’s the biggest surprise to me and we just haven’t figured it out.’’

Desperate to redeem themselves following a 40-point humbling on Saturday at the hands of the Utah Jazz and ultimately get back to their record-setting ways from early in the season, the Magic (8-9) instead did neither on Monday against the surging Pacers (10-8). Up five at intermission, Orlando’s offense was once again a choppy, disjointed mess much of the second half when it shot just 32.6 percent, turned the ball over eight times and got outscored 55-42.

That inefficiency put the Magic in a hole and their offense wasn’t able to recover until it was too late, resulting in yet another loss that dropped them below .500 for the first time on the season.
``We’re trying to play the right way, work the guard, trying to play with the pass and trying to run the floor, but we’re not making a lot of shots right now,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``And, obviously, we’re sloppy with our turnovers.’’

During its stellar 6-2 start to the season, a run that included impressive routs of Cleveland and San Antonio, Orlando averaged 114.9 points and 25.2 assists while shooting 48.9 percent from the floor and 44.2 percent from 3-point range. In the nine games since, the Magic offense has mustered 99.3 points and 22.8 assists on 44.2 percent shooting and 34.1 percent accuracy from 3-point range.

It was more of the latter on Monday as Orlando got outscored 28-17 in the game-turning third quarter and its 22 turnovers led to 26 points for Indiana and former Magic standout Victor Oladipo (29 points, nine rebounds, seven steals, five assists and two blocks).

``We just look like a totally different team,’’ said Magic forward Evan Fournier, who finished with 16 points and four 3-pointers but made just six of 16 shots. ``It’s (completely) frustrating, man. There’s not much to say, but we just don’t play the same way and I don’t have any reasons. I don’t know why. I guess we’ve all got to keep working and keep believing that it’s going to come back, but it’s totally a different team.’’

Orlando hasn’t won since Nov. 10 in Phoenix against the rebuilding Suns, dropping the final three games of last week’s West Coast swing and its two games at the Amway Center. Once 3-0 at home, the Magic now hold a middling 4-4 on their home floor with another daunting road trip coming up over the next week.

The Magic’s frustration against Indiana also continued. The Pacers have now won five straight games against Orlando and have captured 12 of the past 13 meetings in the rivalry.

That has to infuriate the perpetually positive Vogel, who coached in Indiana prior to taking over the Magic. He endured last season’s 29-53 disappointment and he resisted the notion that Orlando had arrived even as it was opening the regular season with a sterling 6-2 mark. Vogel knew that the Magic would have to battle through adversity at some point, but he never could have imagined it would happen so quickly considering how well his squad meshed early on.

``We have come a long way in a short period of time with the way we started the season. But there are still going to be growing pains along the way, we’re still a young team and we still were a 29-win team last year,’’ reminded Vogel prior to Monday’s tipoff. ``It’s an 82-game marathon and we’ve got to push through highs and lows.’’

Vucevic had 25 points and 13 rebounds against Indiana defensive ace Myles Turner (eight points, five rebounds and two blocks), but the Magic had little to go with him. Fournier, Orlando’s leading scorer most of the season, never found a consistent rhythm, while Aaron Gordon made just five of 13 shots and only two of nine 3-pointers for 13 points. The NBA’s top 3-point shooter nine days ago, Gordon has made just seven of his last 31 attempts from beyond the arc.

Up 55-50 at intermission following an encouraging 11-0 burst to close the first half, Orlando mustered just 17 points in a third quarter, causing it to lose the lead. The Magic couldn’t mount much of a charge until the final two minutes of the game when Fournier and Gordon combined for three 3-pointers. Gordon’s high-arching bank shot got the Magic within 98-95 with 49.2 seconds to play, but Bojan Bogdanovic clinched it with a game-sealing 3-pointer with 31.1 seconds remaining. Bogdanovic, who burned the Magic last season with a big performance while playing for the Washington Wizards, scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half and he finished with five 3-pointers.

Oladipo, who scored 10 of his 16 second-half points from the free throw line, said he derived no extra motivation from facing the team that picked him No. 2 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.

``It doesn’t matter where are at or who we are playing; I just come out there and play as hard as I can,’’ said Oladipo, who came into the game averaging career-bests in scoring, field goal percentage and accuracy from 3-point range. ``Whatever it takes to lead by example, say whatever I need to say, to make sure that we get the job done.’’

Jonathon Simmons (10 points) and D.J. Augustin (10 points) provided a little bit of punch off the bench, but the Magic got little else from struggling starters Elfrid Payton (three points and seven assists) and Terrence Ross (seven points). Much of the Magic’s struggles on the offensive end of the floor started about the time that Payton and Augustin were both out with hamstring strains.

``They’re both a little out of rhythm,’’ Vogel admitted. ``You know, there’s being hurt and being out and then when you come back – any player when they first come back the first couple of games they’re out of rhythm and that’s where we’re at right now with both of those guys.’’

The Magic made 58 percent of their first-quarter shots and they drilled seven of the first 10 3-point tries early in the game. That shooting success faded in the second half and the Magic ended up just 13 of 38 from 3-point range. Indiana shot just 41.6 percent, but it was greatly aided by the 26 points from Orlando’s turnovers.

``It was maybe just us trying to do too much getting into the lane,’’ Augustin said of Orlando’s miscues. They’re a good strips team and we knew that going into the game. They have a lot of guys good at stealing the ball and anticipating passing lanes and using their hands. We knew that going in, but we just didn’t take care of it.’’

Still somewhat recovering from a four-game, eight-day trip to the West Coast last week, the Magic are about to embark on another grueling road jaunt. The Magic leave on Tuesday for difficult a four-game, seven-night trip with games in Minnesota (Wednesday), Boston (Friday), Philadelphia (Saturday) and Indiana (Monday). The team will wake up Thanksgiving morning in Minneapolis before flying to Boston and holding a team dinner.

To figure out why the Magic’s season has completely turned around – from the 6-2 start to the 2-7 dive over the past nine games – look no further than what happened on Monday, Vucevic said. Orlando racked up 14 assists in the first half – one more than it had the whole game in Saturday’s disastrous loss to Utah – and seemed ready to claw out of its offensive struggles with a 55-point first half. Then came the third quarter, when Orlando’s ball and body movement ground to a halt, and there was far too many possessions where shots were forced in traffic.

Again, Vucevic can’t figure out why the Magic have abandoned a style that brought them so much early-season success – even in the middle of winnable games such as the one on Monday night.

``In the third quarter, we lost the rhythm, started over-dribbling, we were too stagnant and we weren’t playing with a rhythm,’’ Vucevic said. ``To be honest, I don’t know why because it was working for us whenever we went to that (early in the game). I don’t know, but we’ll have to look at the tape and get back to work on it.’’

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.