Spirit of Team Remains Strong Heading Into Tonight's Showdown with Pacers

By John Denton
Nov. 27, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS – Back at the site of his greatest success as a NBA head coach, Frank Vogel feels there’s no better place than Bankers Life Fieldhouse for his Orlando Magic to snap out of a funk that continues to threaten their season.

But to do so, the Magic must make some major changes as it relates to their defensive toughness, their will in the guts of games and their trust in one another.

``That’s the plan – we’ve got to get a win,’’ Vogel said Monday morning following his team’s practice in preparation for facing the Indiana Pacers at 7 p.m. ``We’ve got to play on the defensive end a lot better than we’ve been playing. That’s what we worked on in shootaround today – trying to get our defense right. Schemes have got to get tighter, execution of those schemes have to get tighter and the physicality and toughness – all the things that go into a defensive disposition – have to get better. And we’ve got to force the other team to miss shots.’’

Once 6-2 and even a sterling 8-4 after steadying themselves, the Magic (8-12) have inexplicably dropped eight consecutive games. Granted, it is in the most difficult stretch of the season – eight of 10 games and 15 of the past 20 nights have been spent on the road – but the manner in which the Magic have been rolled by foes has been particularly puzzling. During the eight-game skid (Nov. 11-27), the Magic have the NBA’s worst defensive rating (115.6 points per 100 possessions) and the offense hasn’t been much better (ranked 21st, 101.2 points per 100 possessions).

Still, Magic veteran center Nikola Vucevic – the longest-tenured player on the squad at 5 ½ seasons in Orlando black and blue – says the spirit of the team is strong. He knows full well that the fate of the season could be hanging in the balance if the Magic can’t soon snap out of their malaise.

``I think it’s still good and we’re in a good place,’’ Vucevic said of the Magic’s mindset. ``Obviously, nobody is enjoying this losing streak, but we’re still pretty good as far as the chemistry and guys getting along with one another – that’s not the issue. But that has to translate onto the court because I feel like there are times when we don’t trust each other defensively. And offensively we don’t play together enough. Today, we had a good shootaround and Coach (Vogel) really wanted us to work on our defense. Guys really competed. For shootaround, you usually just walk through stuff, but we played a little bit today, players competed and we tried to get better. That was a good sign and now hopefully we can carry it onto the court.’’

In Indiana, the Magic will be facing a team that beat them 105-97 a week in Orlando to prolong their losing misery. That night, the aggressive, up-tempo Pacers forced Orlando into 22 turnovers and converted those miscues into 26 points. Former Orlando standout Victor Oladipo had 29 points and seven steals that night, leading the charge for the slightly surprising Pacers.

Oladipo, who didn’t play on Saturday when Indiana lost at home to the Boston Celtics, is listed as a game-time decision tonight because of a bruised knee.

Vogel, who two led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals during his six seasons as the franchise’s head coach, said the only way for the Magic to break themselves out of their skid is to learn from past mistakes and play with a fighting spirit. That has been absent in some of the recent losses and he hopes his squad will band together tonight to battle in the final game of this four-game, seven-day road trip.

``Hope so, but we’ll see,’’ Vogel said when asked if his team despises losing enough. ``We’re not happy with where we’re at and we’re very motivated to get a win, I hope.’’

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