Shelvin Mack Comfortable in Starting Role if Necessary

By John Denton
Nov. 3, 2017

ORLANDO – The last time the Orlando Magic started 6-2 prior this season it was 2009 and the franchise was in the works of crafting a 59-win campaign and a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

While no one is ready to pronounce this season’s 6-2 Magic team as ready for those kinds of accomplishments just yet, its feats so far over the first three weeks have been incredibly significant. And with another victory tonight against the rebuilding Chicago Bulls (tipoff: 7 p.m.; TV: Fox Sports Florida), the Magic would move to 7-2 for the time since 2007-08 and go to 4-0 at the Amway Center for the first time since 2011-12. And, for the record, last season’s seventh win didn’t come until the 18th game.

Orlando’s run so far – one that includes lopsided wins over Cleveland and Miami and pulse-pounding defeats of Memphis and New Orleans on the most recent road trip – has been noteworthy for the enormous gains that it has made. Last season, Orlando was a mess offensively, ranking 29th in offensive rating, 27th in points per game, 28th in field goal percentage, 25th in 3-pointers made per game and 29th in 3-point accuracy. This season, it ranks second, second, second, third and first in those same categories.

Then, there’s this for Orlando’s up-tempo, hot-shooting offense: Since the 1995-96 season, the Golden State Warriors teams from 2015-16 (919 points) and 2017-18 (968 points) are the only ones to score as many points through eight games as this Magic team (919 points). For comparison sake, that 2015-16 Golden State won 73 regular season games and came within minutes of winning a second consecutive title, while this season’s Warriors are the heavy favorites to win a second straight title and a third in four years.

``It’s a good early sign. Obviously, there is room for improvement in a lot of areas, but I’m very proud of our guys,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said of the strides his team has made so far. ``They care a great deal, they work a great deal and work very hard and they are trying to play the right way. So you have to tip your hat to our guys for how hard they have played so far and how selfless they have played offensively.’’

Orlando’s highly efficient offense could get another challenge tonight with just one true point guard running the show. D.J. Augustin, the starter the past six games, is out after straining his left hamstring in Wednesday’s 101-99 win in Memphis. Elfrid Payton, who has been out since Oct. 20 with a strained hamstring, is also out again. Payton hopes to practice on Saturday and could be available for Sunday’s home game against the Boston Celtics.

Shelvin Mack, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason, had nine points and eight assists on Wednesday and figures to get the start regardless of whether Payton is available to play or not. In his seven-year NBA career with five NBA teams, Mack has started 50 of the 337 games he’s appeared in. This season with the Magic, he’s averaged 5.6 points, 4.6 assists and 1.6 rebounds in seven games.

``I feel very comfortable (starting) and the big thing for me is just staying ready so that I can take advantage when opportunities like this come along so that I can take advantage,’’ Mack said. ``I’m just trying to do my job, do what I do great and not try to make up for what other people do. Just do what I do great and I think we’ll be all right.’’

While the Magic have been churning out record-setting numbers offensively, the Bulls (1-5) have been the polar opposites. Once of just four teams in the NBA with only one victory, the Bulls rank last in the NBA in points per game (90.0) and field goal percentage (38.9 percent) and they are 28th in 3-point accuracy (31.1 percent). Chicago has scored 100 points just twice, it mustered just 91 points in the lone win (Oct. 26 vs. Atlanta) and it is coming off a 97-91 loss to Miami on Wednesday when it shot just 40 percent as a team.

Vogel said the Magic can’t take the Bulls lightly, especially with rookie forward Lauri Markkanen having shown an ability to get hot from the outside. Thus far, the University of Arizona product has averaged 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds a game and is coming off a 25-point effort in Miami on Wednesday.

``(The Magic) have been unbelievable – their pace is third, their scoring is second only behind Golden State, the turn you over and turn 19 points a game off turnovers and that’s obviously been an issue for us,’’ Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. ``And (the Magic) are shooting it. They’re 44 percent as a team from the 3-point line and a big part of that is their frontline. It’s just really a very difficult team to defend because all of the weapons that they have.’’

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