Postgame Report: Magic vs. Pacers

By John Denton
Nov. 27, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS – The Orlando Magic showed up to their Monday morning film session to learn that head coach Frank Vogel had changed the starting lineup. Then, once at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the team quickly found out that their usual walkthrough would involve anything but walking in a fiery, 50-minute scrimmage.

Vogel, who has been exasperated while waiting patiently for the Magic to break out of their recent malaise, sprang into action on Monday to try and bring about change.

For a little more than three quarters of Monday’s game against the Indiana Pacers, everything did change for the Magic as they scrapped defensively, withstood several haymakers for much-improved guard Victor Oladipo and showed the grit that had been missing for much of the past three weeks.

Then, after a night of so much change, things inexplicably reverted back to being exactly the same as they have been for weeks for the snake-bitten Magic in a fourth quarter that had a distinctive here-we-go-again feel to it.

Up one in the opening minute of the final period, Orlando saw whatever hope it had of escaping the grips of a losing streak that threatens its season extinguished with some torrid shooting from Oladipo and a 23-5 Indiana avalanche that paved the way for a 121-109 victory by the Pacers.

``It’s really frustrating because I thought we were going to win that one,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who scored 16 points, grabbed six rebounds and hit four 3-pointers. ``I thought we came out with great energy, but there was just a scoring drought there (early in the fourth quarter) for us. We’re going through a drought and they are red hot. We had breakdowns in our defense and then they were back up six, back up eight and back up 10. When you get that lead you need to extend it and we weren’t able to do that.’’

The loss was the ninth straight for Orlando (8-13), which hasn’t won since Nov. 10 in Phoenix. Once a surprising 6-2 and a solid 8-4 later after weathering a flurry of injuries, the Magic lost further ground on Monday when they got outscored 36-25 in the fourth quarter by the Pacers (12-9). The defeat ended Orlando’s seven-day road trip throughout the East Coast and Midwest at a disappointing 0-4.

``We had some improvements tonight that we’ve got to focus on and not worry about the streak or anything like that,’’ said Vogel, who moved Jonathon Simmons into the starting lineup in place of Terrence Ross. ``We just have to worry about trying to improve as a basketball team. We were less disjointed on the offensive end, we tried to play the right way and we got a lot of good looks. We did some things on the defensive end, but sometimes you just hit a player who is playing out of his mind.’’

That player, of course, was Oladipo, who spent his first three NBA seasons with the Magic after being the No. 2 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft. The guard beat Orlando for a second time in as many weeks by showing off his much-improved jump shot – something that never was very reliable while he wore Magic blue and black pinstripes. After pounding the Magic with 29 points and seven steals last week in Orlando, he made his first 11 shots on Monday – including an off-balanced 3-pointer that banked off the glass during Indiana’s momentum-swinging run. Oladipo finished with 26 points, six rebounds, five assists, four 3-pointers, four blocked shots and two steals.

``We’ve hit a string of those (hot shooters) and we’ve got to stay together and understand that it’s Nov. 27 and there are five months left in the season,’’ Vogel said while searching for positives among the rubble of a brutal stretch. ``We’ve got plenty of time. We’ve got to get a win, but it’s a long season.’’

Simmons, who was moved into the starting lineup at shooting guard, scored 21 points and hit four 3-pointers to help keep the Magic close. Nikola Vucevic had 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Gordon played well with his clutch shooting. Elfrid Payton had 15 points and five assists, while D.J. Augustin chipped in 11 points off the bench.

Domantas Sabonis, whom the Magic traded along with Oladipo on draft night in June of 2016, burned Orlando for 19 points and eight rebounds. Bojan Bogdanovic added 22 points, while Lance Stephenson repeatedly hurt Orlando with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Myles Turner added 18 points, three 3-pointers and two blocked shots.

Vogel, who was the head coach previously in Indiana for six seasons, has yet to beat his former team with while the Magic, dropping six straight.

Vogel changed the starting lineup while trying to spark the squad. Vogel said he and Ross had been discussing such a change for some time in hopes of getting the shooting guard more offensive looks in a role he’s played out of most of his career. On this night, the move did little to improve Ross’ production as he made just three of 11 shots and one of six 3-pointers for just seven points in 25 minutes.

``He gets lost a little bit with the first group,’’ Vogel said of Ross. ``He goes a lot of times with zero field goal attempts or one field goal attempt and he’s capable of more than that. He’s one of our most selfless players. He’s not really lost; he’s just making the right play. He’s one of the guys who doesn’t force and we’ve got too many guys that force (shots.)’’

Monday night’s game mercifully ended a stretch of the Magic’s schedule where they have played eight of 10 games and have spent 15 of the past 20 nights on the road. Orlando went 1-3 on its swing through the West Coast, returned home and dropped two games and came into Monday having lost the first three games of this trip through the Midwest and East Coast.

``Yeah, it has been quite frankly,’’ Vogel said when asked if the toughest stretch of the season has been more difficult than initially expected. ``We just had a bad time to play poorly. You always go in and out of different stretches of your schedule where you are playing well. Sometimes you play poorly at home, but you’ve got six games at home and maybe you win only three or four when you should win them all. We started playing poorly when we were playing the best level of competition of the season.’’

The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Wednesday night to host the star-studded Oklahoma City Thunder. Led by the theatrics of point guard Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have won in overtime in Orlando each of the past two seasons.

Orlando was seemingly poised to end its losing streak when Evan Fournier (12 points) converted a layup early in the fourth period to give the Magic an 86-85 edge. However, those hopes quickly died when Sabonis and Stephenson hit the Magic with a bevy of floaters and free-throw line conversions. And when Oladipo buried the bank-shot 3-pointer from 26 feet – one that caused him to throw both palms in the air – Orlando was down 98-91 and on its way to another crushing defeat.

``It sucks because we were able to take the lead and then they were able to make some tough shots,’’ Ross said. ``It was a hot night for them and it was just a tough night for us all around.’’

Down seven at the half and trailing by as much as 12 in the third period, the Magic’s best stretch in some time came late in the third period. Orlando closed the third period with a 14-3 romp spurred by some crisp ball movement and dead-eye shooting from Simmons and D.J. Augustin. Simmons made three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the period, while Augustin added nine third-quarter points to draw Orlando within 85-84 by the start of the fourth.

Orlando played much better on both ends of the court in the first half, but it still trailed 57-50 because of the shooting of Oladipo. The Indiana guard missed Saturday’s game and was questionable to play because of a bruised knee, but he was dialed in early on against his former team. He made all eight of his first-half shots – including two 3-pointers – for 18 points in the game’s first 24 minutes.

While Vogel’s lineup change helped and the team played with much more passion, it still left Bankers Life Fieldhouse broken and saddled with another loss. Gordon, for one, wanted nothing to do with trying to take positives from a crushing defeat.

``I’m not taking a moral victory out of that,’’ Gordon said. ``The coaching staff can take whatever moral victory they’d like out of that, but I don’t. I don’t think (the others on the team) will either.’’

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