ORLANDO – Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon is supremely confident in everything he does, seemingly oozing poise, belief and cool out his every pore before, during and after games.
However, even Gordon’s swagger had to be somewhat knocked out of kilter by the way he had struggled of late to shoot the ball or find any sort of rhythm or flow in the Orlando offense. Coming into Wednesday, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound standout had made just 19 of 62 shots (30.6 percent) and only six of 28 3-pointers (21.4 percent) in his last four games and he was less than 24 hours removed from a shooting stinker in New York where he connected on just three of 15 shots and missed all eight of his 3-point tries.
Resolute and resilient, Gordon shook off those shooting woes by playing aggressively in attacking the rim in leading the short-handed Magic to a 105-100 defeat of the depleted Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday at the Amway Center.
``Shooters shoot, so I’m going to keep shooting and tonight they went in,’’ said Gordon, who laid a solid foundation for his spectacular night by making six of his first 10 shots with two 3-pointers.
Gordon, who made eight of 16 shots on Wednesday, scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half as the Magic (24-54) beat Dallas (24-55) and won for a second time in as many nights. Gordon was used only sparingly in the third quarter and he rested in the fourth quarter as many of the Magic’s young players closed out the game in impressive fashion. Orlando head coach Frank Vogel has been looking for ways to get Gordon back on track and he was happy to see the talented power forward play under control on Wednesday.
``It was an important night for him because he’s had a tough couple of games lately and we’ve been talking one-on-one about getting him going, taking the right shots and playing within himself more and letting the game come to him rather than forcing,’’ Vogel said. ``He did a great job with that tonight and as a result shot a high percentage.’’
One night after scoring 16 points at Madison Square Garden, rookie forward Jamel Artis poured in 18 points for another personal best scoring total at the NBA level. Khem Birch (10 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots) and Rodney Purvis (seven points and three rebounds) – two other players who spent time with Artis on the Lakeland Magic of the G League this season – played well to earn Orlando the victory. Those three players with Lakeland ties scored 16 of Orlando’s 28 points in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
``We do have a lot of chemistry because we’ve all been playing in the G League together,’’ said Artis, who has made 14 of 23 with four 3-pointers on Tuesday and Wednesday. ``Down in crunch time, we know what each other’s tendencies are, and we like to play together. We’re not selfish and we’re all unselfish. We ended out the game and I think that (unselfishness) helped us get the win.’’
Mario Hezonja had eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter and he chipped in eight rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes. Shelvin Mack notched 13 points and nine assists, while Bismack Biyombo (12 points, 12 rebounds) and a career-best five assists did most of his damage in the first half.
Hezonja had a highlight-worthy pass to Gordon for a dunk and an alley-oop dunk that he had to soar high into the air for. Afterward, he admitted part of his mission on Wednesday was to help Gordon get back on track offensively.
``We were searching for (Gordon). I’m not even worried about him missing because I know he’s going to (score) because we run a lot of our stuff through him and he can get it going any time,’’ said Hezonja, who followed up Tuesday’s 19-point, six-rebound game with another strong performance. ``I told him, `When I get it just run the floor and I will find you. It’s not about me and I will find you.’ I don’t see any problems with (his struggles); he just has to remain calm and not force anything.’’
Dallas, which had just 10 players available and rested four regular starters, was led by Jalen Jones with 15 points, while Dorian Finney-Smith (14 points), Johnathan Motley (14 points) and Kyle Collinsworth (14 points, nine rebounds and six assists) kept the game close into the final minute.
Orlando, which won a night earlier in New York against the Knicks, rested veteran center Nikola Vucevic and remained without rookie Jonathan Isaac (ankle sprain), Jonathon Simmons (wrist contusion), Evan Fournier (knee sprain) and Terrence Ross (knee sprain). Resting Vucevic – the team’s longest-tenured player on the roster – allowed the Magic to give more minutes to Birch, who has been playing out of position at power forward much of the past month.
Dallas, winners at home on Tuesday against Portland, was even more short-handed on Wednesday. The Mavs had just 10 players available with Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Dwight Powell and Nerlens Noel were out for a variety of reasons. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said prior to the game that there would be an announcement forthcoming about the availability of Nowitzki, who has been bothered by a left ankle impingement.
Up five at the half, Orlando never lost the lead in the third period, but it could never shake the pesky Mavs. Gordon had just one basket in the third period as Vogel turned mostly to the reserves and the Magic nursed a 77-74 lead heading into the fourth period.
Orlando led 56-51 at intermission thanks to dynamic and energetic first-half performances from Gordon and Biyombo. Gordon had 18 points by halftime by making seven of 11 shots, hitting two 3-pointers and continually attacking the rim when the Mavs tried covering him with smaller defenders.
Biyombo, who is on pace to play in all 82 games for the second time in his career, did a little bit of everything in a frenetic first half. Not only did he make all four of his shots for 12 points, but he also grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out five assists and nabbed a steal. The five assists were a career high, topping his previous best in a full game with four.
Biyombo also provided a bit of comic relief in the second quarter when he excitedly attempted to throw an outlet pass to Gordon. However, Biyombo sailed the ball over the 6-foot-9 forward’s head by about six feet. Not only did Gordon and Biyombo share a hearty laugh, Vogel and Carlisle shared a joke along the sidelines about a play that just might show up next on TNT’s ``Shaqtin’ A Fool’’ segment.
Afterward, Gordon said that even though the Magic are out of the playoff chase once again and many teams are resting their primary players, he considers this final stretch of games to hold lots of meaning.
``Super important,’’ he said with conviction. ``A lot of people can look into the organization and say, `They’re not playing for anything’ or `they’re playing for picks.’
``That’s not true. You play for the respect of the game, the respect of your teammates and the respect of your organization so when it comes time for those playoff games it makes it even easier,’’ Gordon continued. ``That’s because you know when there was nothing to play for, you were still playing hard. Then, when the moment comes, you’ll be ready. So, there’s no time to skip; the only time is now, and we have to take care of what’s happening now with these games.’’
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