ORLANDO – When Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford approached Jonathon Simmons about the prospect of moving him from shooting guard to the team’s backup point guard position, the four-year NBA veteran didn’t have second of trepidation and responded with a rather blunt answer.
``Just get me on the floor,’’ Simmons said of the switch.
Looking to stabilize the Magic’s somewhat shaky bench corps and add a feature that will help the team get to the rim and get to the free throw line more, Clifford turned to Simmons in place of Jerian Grant. The move worked so well in the defeat of the Toronto Raptors that Clifford said the Magic will stick with Simmons at the point guard position going forward.
That’s just fine with Simmons, who has worked hard to get back to the level that he was prior to having surgery on his right wrist last April. He came into Sunday averaging 7.8 points and shooting 48.3 percent from the floor over his last 10 games.
Despite suffering through a poor shooting night on Friday, Simmons repeatedly got into the lane with his quickness with the ball in the hands. He was able to collapse the defense well enough to hand out six assists and grab four rebounds in 20 minutes. Simmons said he didn’t change his mindset even though he was changing positions.
``I didn’t have to change because I already know our offense and it was just about executing,’’ Simmons said of how he played against Toronto. ``It’s just about me trying to do whatever I can to get other guys shots.’’
Aaron Gordon said the team’s style shouldn’t change with the driving Simmons at point guard as opposed to Grant, who is more of a distributor. Gordon said the addition of Simmons just makes the second unit even more dangerous because of explosive manner in which the guard plays.
``Jon is a dynamic player, so he demands a lot of attention,’’ Gordon said. ``He makes the right plays, he knows how to play the game and we trust him with the ball. So, it’s good for us.’’
VUCEVIC CONTINUES TO GARNER PRAISE: Add Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey to the growing list of coaches in the Eastern conference who think Orlando center Nikola Vucevic has a good shot of making the NBA All-Star Game because of the dramatic improvement that he’s made in his game this season.
Casey, who coached previously in Toronto, said he has been a big fan of the 7-footer’s game for years, but he was blown away at seeing how Vucevic totally took apart the Raptors in Friday’s game. Vucevic had 30 points, 20 rebounds and eight assists – making him just the ninth NBA player to get to 30/20/8 since 1975-76 and joining an impressive list that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charles Barkley, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Alex English and others. Also, it was the eighth 20-rebound game of Vucevic’s career, the seventh time he’s had 20 points and 20 rebounds and the third 30/20 game.
``I’ve always liked him, and wherever I’ve been he’s always given us trouble, but he has the ability now to shoot the trail-three, stretch the floor and put the ball on the floor and get to where he wants to go,’’ Casey said. ``You add that to his post-up game, the young man has really, really improved and has gotten with the new NBA. He’s not one of those guys who can’t stretch out (to the 3-point line) and he’s still trying to do it (the old way). He’s done it (in terms of improvement).’’
GROWING THE GAME: While Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. starting time might have been odd to some Magic fans in Orlando, others who love the team from countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East likely appreciated the much earlier tip time.
Sunday’s game was a part of an NBA initiative where 42 Saturday and Sunday games will start at an earlier time so that they tip off during prime-time hours in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
The 42 games televised in primetime abroad this season are the most ever and it’s the fifth straight year that the NBA has televised at least 20 games in primetime in those regions.
The Magic have certainly played a role in helping the NBA grow the game internationally. Orlando moved two home games to Mexico City – Dec. 13 and 15 against the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz – and Sunday was their second early start time so that the game could be televised in primetime overseas.
UP NEXT: As if a six-game, 11-night trip where the team will play in all four U.S. time zones wasn’t daunting enough, the Magic will start the journey with a difficult back-to-back set of games.
Orlando was scheduled to leave after Sunday’s game and travel to Charlotte where they will face the Hornets on Monday at 6 p.m. Not only will it be Clifford’s first game back in Charlotte since he was fired by the franchise last April, but it will be Orlando’s second chance this season to break a long losing streak to the Hornets.
The Magic have dropped 12 straight games to the Hornets, including a 120-88 rout in Orlando in the second game of the regular season. Orlando hasn’t beaten the Hornets since Dec. 16, 2015. Also, they have lost six in a row in Charlotte – a skid that dates back to Dec. 27, 2014.
From Charlotte, the Magic will play in Chicago (Wednesday), Minnesota (Friday), Los Angeles (Clippers, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET), Sacramento (Jan. 7) and Utah (Jan. 9). The Magic won’t be back at the Amway Center until Jan. 12 when they host the Boston Celtics.
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