Magic Fall to Spurs in Preseason Finale

by John Denton

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs looked on Friday night like two teams ready for the start of the regular season. Not necessarily because their play was on point or their shooting was sharp, but instead because they both clearly want the preseason to end.

Lauded throughout training camp and the preseason for their passing and ``smart’’ play on the offensive end by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic slogged through Friday with some unsightly shooting, a distinct lack of precision and some shaky play from the reserves. The veteran-laden Spurs weren’t much better, struggling to score for long stretches of a game that lacked intensity and urgency.

When Orlando’s 100-81 loss to the Spurs mercifully ended before 16,424 fans at the Amway Center it meant the exhibition season was over and the Magic could finally shift their focus to games that officially count in the standings. First, however, they had to try and explain what happened to their offense on Friday.

``What happens with the Spurs is they give you some looks that they want and they’re quick shots and you don’t really get in a rhythm. I think we fell for a lot of those,’’ said center Nikola Vucevic, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds but turned the ball over four times. ``They test your patience and test your offense and we weren’t patient. We rushed a lot and took a lot of quick shots. We didn’t get the looks that are going to work for you over 48 minutes.’’

Orlando (2-3) shot just 37.1 percent from the floor, made only five of 26 3-point tries and didn’t lead after it was 5-4 in the early going. San Antonio (3-2) led by as much as 28 despite making just 41 percent of its shots and only eight of 25 3-pointers.

How ugly was the shooting for the Magic and Spurs? Orlando forward Aaron Gordon missed his first 10 shots, while Jonathan Isaac whiffed on seven straight after scoring his team’s first five points. San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan shot one 3-pointer so far over the rim that it nearly hit the NBA logo in the corner of the backboard, while Pau Gasol had a 3-point attempt careen off the top of the backboard.

Seemingly a night to forget, Magic rookie Mohamed Bamba instead said his team would take the poor performance against the Spurs and build from it.

``I just told Aaron (Gordon), `We don’t take Ls,’’’ said Bamba, who had 15 points, nine rebounds and a blocked shot in nearly 23 minutes. ``The only L we take is we learn and this is definitely something to learn from.’’

It’s onto the regular season now for Orlando, and not a minute too soon for a franchise looking to make major strides this season under the direction of Clifford and the rise of promising youngsters Isaac and Bamba. Clifford chalked up most of Friday’s struggles to the team trying to incorporate Terrence Ross, Jonathon Simmons and Bamba back into the fold after injuries knocked them out of recent practices.

The Magic are scheduled to be off on Saturday before spending Sunday, Monday and Tuesday practicing for Wednesday’s regular-season opener. Orlando will open against the rival Miami Heat at the Amway Center for a third consecutive season. The Magic will also be home two days later when they host the Charlotte Hornets.

Orlando closed the preseason at 101 points a night over five games. The Magic shot just 44.5 percent from the floor and only 32.6 percent from 3-point range – areas of major concern this season. Time will tell if they can keep pace offensively in a league where shooting has never been more important.

``I think the best way to look at it when we have played the first 20 games, what are you doing when you play well and what’s not happening when you play poorly?’’ Clifford asked. ``For us (to be successful), clearly it’s when we have offensive pace and energy, the ball is hitting the paint before we shoot and we’re getting to the free throw line. Those have been our best moments.’’

Evan Fournier came alive in the second half for his first solid shooting stretch of the preseason and finished with 23 points. Bamba, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, had three dunks and a 3-pointer from the wing but said he needs to play much harder to help his team.

``One thing that we need to work on and where we have a lot of room for growth is our offensive energy,’’ Bamba said. ``Personally, Coach Cliff has been telling me to work on my offensive energy since Summer league. When we do it as a team, we look really good.’’

Gordon, who the Magic signed to a long-term contract extension in the offseason, didn’t score until the fourth quarter and finished with four points on two-of-13 shooting. Isaac, who was coming off a stellar performance on Wednesday, finished up two-of-nine from the floor and had five points and five rebounds.

DeRozan had 20 points for the Spurs, while LaMarcus Aldridge chipped in 13 points and 15 rebounds.

Down 10 at the break following a sloppy first half, Orlando tried jump-starting its offense in the third period. However, its shooting struggles persisted, causing the deficit to swell to as much as 19 points. Orlando hit just six of 19 shots in the third period – and missed seven of nine 3-point tries – and trailed 71-52 by the end of the third quarter.

A poor start only got worse in the third quarter for Gordon, who too often drove into traffic and forced plays. By the end of the third quarter he sat at zero for 10 from the floor and the Magic were a puzzling minus-20 in his first 22 minutes on the floor.

One positive from the third period was Fournier showing signs of breaking out of the shooting slump that has plagued him all preseason. Fournier connected on four of his six shots after halftime, including a corner 3-pointer and a driving dunk.

There are legitimate concerns about the Magic’s offense and they reared their ugly head in a first half that was difficult to watch. Orlando didn’t crack double digits until the last minutes of the first quarter, didn’t hit the 20-point plateau until 21 minutes had been played and trailed 40-30 at intermission.

Despite Friday’s struggles, Vucevic – the longest-tenured player on the Magic – feels his team will have enough offense to keep pace with foes this season and he feels Orlando is in a position to make some major strides in the standings.

``I feel like we had a really good preseason and training camp, with some ups and downs in the games that are to be expected, but we’re pretty happy with where we are compared to where we started,’’ Vucevic said. ``I’m not going to compare where we are now with the past because this is a new year and a new team. But where we are now compared to where we were on Sept. 26 (the start of training camp), it’s a big difference. Guys are much more comfortable with what Coach Cliff wants from us and we can be satisfied with where we are. There’s still a lot of work to do and it’ll take time. Nobody expects us to be perfect right now, but we understand that we have to keep working and improving.’’

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