Postgame Report: Magic at Wizards

By John Denton
Dec. 23, 2017

WASHINGTON D.C. – Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get much worse for the slumping and staggering Orlando Magic, they inexplicably did on Saturday night.

When center Nikola Vucevic doubled over in pain while clutching his left hand – one that was ultimately proven to have a fractured second metacarpal (index finger) that will require surgery and keep him out several weeks – the Magic were left with a lineup on the floor that was hardly recognizable. With Vucevic in the locker room getting X-rays, Terrence Ross (knee sprain) back in Orlando and Evan Fournier (ankle sprain) and Aaron Gordon (calf strain) in street clothes, the Magic were missing four of the five starters from their Opening Night win on Oct. 18. At the rate the Magic are going, Orlando’s lone remaining starter – point guard Elfrid Payton – might want to consider upping his insurance.

What was left of the decimated Magic had little firepower left but fought throughout against a desperate Washington Wizards team on Saturday before predictably falling 130-103 at Capital One Arena.

``I’ve never been a part of a team that’s had so many injuries and most of them have (kept players) out quite some time,’’ said Vucevic, whose left hand was heavily bandaged after the game. ``It’s very unfortunate. It happens to me (on Saturday), it sucks and it’s like we can’t catch a break now.’’

Washington head coach Scott Brooks said he empathized with Orlando coach Frank Vogel because of how hard the Magic have been hit by injuries. Vogel has had to mix and match his rotations most nights while using 13 different starting lineups this season.

``Yeah, I have a lot of respect for Frank,’’ Brooks said. ``He’s an excellent coach that works hard and he’s about the right things. Nobody in this league — nobody in this league — can win with all their best players hurt, no matter who you have as a coach. And it’s not easy. But you’ve got to deal with it. Nobody feels sorry for you. But you’ve got to manage that and keep the expectations of playing hard and playing together as your main focus.’’

To his credit, Vogel said he will not use injuries as an excuse for Orlando’s woes. The only thing possibly more frustrating than Orlando’s injury situation is the fact that the Magic (11-23) have dropped eight games in a row and 19 of 22 since Nov. 10. The Magic haven’t won since Dec. 6 when they beat the Atlanta Hawks in overtime. Once 6-2 in the season’s first three weeks, the Magic now have had two losing skids of at least eight games.

``I’m disappointed for Vooch because he wants to be out there and he’s going to have to miss some time obviously. That’s the first thought when a guy goes down and I feel bad for him,’’ Vogel said. ``I don’t feel bad for our team and for what we’re trying to get accomplished. We can’t hang our heads and look at all of the guys that we have out.

``Bismack Biyombo was signed here to be a force for us and he’s going to get some starting minutes for us now and Mo Speights has played back-up center now for a couple of years,’’ Vogel said. ``Those guys have to pick up the slack and have a next-man-up mentality.’’

While Gordon, Fournier and Isaac could potentially return as soon as Tuesday’s game in Miami, Vucevic will soon have surgery and will be lost for a significant period of time. There is no specific timetable on his return, but the Magic’s longest-tenured player could potentially be out as much as six-to-eight weeks.

Speights, who had three points on one-of-seven shooting, said it is up to veteran players such as himself and Biyombo (eight points and three rebounds on Saturday) to fill the void created by the loss of Vucevic, a 17.8-point scorer.

``This team has been in this situation before and it’s all about playing hard, playing smart and playing for each other,’’ Speights said. ``With this team, we’re around each other more than our family, so we should play hard for each other and make sure that those guys who are out can come back to a team that’s winning, not losing. That’s what it’s all about now.’’

One minor positive to emerge from Saturday’s game: When Orlando took a 20-19 lead with 5:06 to play, it was the team’s first lead in a game in more than a week. Previously, the Magic hadn’t had a lead (13-12) since the 4:43 mark of the first quarter against Portland on Dec. 15. Mario Hezonja’s jumper snapped a streak in which the Magic were behind at 191 minutes, 28 seconds – a streak that spanned more than 15 consecutive quarters. On Saturday, the Magic led three different times, but never by more than a point.

Payton, who has picked up his aggressiveness of late in wake of all the injuries, dominated a long stretch of the third quarter and finished with a career-best 30 points and 10 assists. He had 13 points in the third quarter and his 30 points eclipsed his previous NBA high of 28 points. He added five rebounds and four steals in 35 minutes.

``(The Vucevic injury) is huge and unfortunate but we can’t get down about it and we have to just step up even more,’’ said Payton, who has scored 14, 18 and 30 points in his last three games. ``(Vucevic) was definitely a focal point of the offense and we’re definitely going to switch it up a little bit. It will force us to utilize other guys a little more. I’m just trying to get into the paint and make a good decision every time, whether that’s a dump-off pass or finishing myself. I’m just trying to get into the paint and make things happen.’’

Hezonja (16 points and two 3-pointers), Jonathon Simmons (14 points and two 3-pointers) and Wes Iwundu (12 points on five-of-seven shooting) played well while trying to carry the offense. The Magic’s offensive efficiency improved greatly as they shot 48.3 percent from the floor and hit eight 3-pointers.

Washington (18-15) bounced back a night after getting drilled 119-84 in Brooklyn. Bradley Beal, who was two for 15 on Friday, scored 17 points and hit three 3-pointers, while Otto Porter Jr. added 17 points and four 3-pointers. John Wall chipped in 10 points and 13 assists, helping the Wizards place seven scorers in double digits.

Washington connected on better than 60 percent of their field goals much of the night and finished at 54.7 percent. They also had 16 threes.

Orlando trailed just 15-14 when Vucevic took an inbounds pass and soon doubled over in pain after injuring his finger. Vucevic is unsure whether he was hurt during a collision with Washington center Ian Mahinmi or when Porter passed by and took a swipe and smacked the index finger. Vucevic was able to signal for a timeout, but walked immediately to the bench and proceeded to head to the Orlando locker room.

X-rays ultimately showed a fracture in the index finger of his left hand – an injury that will require surgery in the coming days.

From there, things proceeded to go downhill quickly for the staggered Magic. Washington pushed its lead to 37-29 by the end of the first quarter and it held a commanding 72-48 advantage by intermission. In the first half alone, the Wizards shot 61.9 percent and drilled seven of 13 3-pointers.

Once down as much as 29 points, the Magic continue to fight and claw in the second half to send a brief scare into the Wizards. Payton scored 13 points in the third quarter alone to get the Magic within 100-83 by the start of the fourth quarter.

Vogel said it will be up to what’s left of the Magic to show the necessary toughness and togetherness to stay in games until they can get back some healthy bodies. Referring to the potential returns of Fournier, Gordon and Isaac, Vogel said, ``there’s a chance all three could play and there’s a chance that none of them play.’’ Vogel knows his team will get no pity from the rest of the NBA and he’s not seeking any.

``You have five guys in uniform who are going to play the game with execution and the pass and with effort and you’ve got to go score the ball,’’ Vogel said of Orlando trying to make up for being without its top three scorers now. ``When you play with the pass, guys can generate offense.’’

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