By John Denton
Oct. 29, 2017
CHARLOTTE – Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel strongly believed his team would get a significant bump this season from its continuity – both with the coaches and the players – but he admitted that even he has been surprised at how much that familiarity has helped the squad’s chemistry.
For many of the Magic’s players – namely forwards Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja and guards Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton – it is the first time in their NBA careers that they are playing for the same head coach for a second straight season.
Fournier, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Sunday, played for George Karl and Brian Shaw in his two seasons in Denver and endured constant turnover with Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego, Scott Skiles and Vogel in his first three seasons in Orlando. This season, Vogel is back for a second straight season and that’s meant a lot in terms of comfort and chemistry for Orlando’s young core of players.
“It’s tough when you are changing coaches and changing systems every year and now we all know what is expected of us,’’ Fournier said. “There’s a familiarity there with Frank and that’s been big for us.’’
That familiarity played a big role in Orlando’s 4-1 start, Vogel said. Coming into Sunday, Orlando ranked first in the NBA in 3-point shooting (45.9 percent), second in scoring (118 ppg.) and second in total field goal percentage (49.8 percent), second in percentage of field goals off assists (56.9 percent) and third in overall assists (24.4 apg.). Defensively, Orlando came into Sunday ranked third in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed (41.5 percent) and first in 3-point percentage allowed (27.3 percent) and ninth in turnovers forced (16 tpg.).
All those stellar numbers and the success in games can be traced back to the Magic’s comfort and continuity among the players and coaching staff, Vogel insisted.
“It’s definitely real and it’s greater than I expected,’’ Vogel said. “Our guys have a real comfort level and familiarity with what they are being asked to do. When you have that and a familiarity with your teammates, then you have a chance for your talent to come out and shine. So (the bump from continuity) is real and it’s greater than I anticipated.’’
PAYTON PROGRESSING: Orlando got a welcomed sight on Sunday in the pregame activities as point guard Elfrid Payton was out on the Spectrum Center court going through a variety of exercises to rehabilitate his strained left hamstring. Payton didn’t play against the Hornets, missing his fourth straight game because of the injury, and he might be out the rest of the road trip that includes stops in New Orleans (Monday) and Memphis (Wednesday).
Payton suffered what the Magic are calling a “mild-to-moderate’’ strain of his hamstring on a drive to the basket on Oct. 20 in Brooklyn. Last week, he went through treatment sessions twice daily in hopes of speeding up his return. Orlando lost to Brooklyn in the game that Payton was injured, but it rebounded to beat Cleveland, Brooklyn in a rematch and San Antonio with veterans D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack filling in at point guard.
“He’s doing better and I already know how much he loves this game and how much it hurts him sitting out on the sidelines,’’ said Gordon, one of Payton’s best friends on the team. “He’s working diligently to get back. I just told him to take his time and that we need him back when he’s 100 percent. I told him, `We’ll hold it down until you get back.’’’
NBA DREAMERS: Orlando forward Jonathan Isaac and Charlotte’s Dwayne Bacon, teammates last season at Florida State University, spent time catching up with one another on Saturday night via Apple’s FaceTime – likely because the Magic rookie had a nasty illness that knocked him out of action on Sunday. The virtual conversation allowed Bacon and Isaac to talk about their times at Florida State and about how they have both accomplished the dream of reaching the NBA.
“This was something that we definitely dreamed about and we talked about it a couple of times last year,’’ Bacon said of his talks with Isaac about getting to the NBA. “There’s no doubt that we both thought we’d be here and now we’ve got to keep it going. It’s OK getting here, but now it’s all about staying here and being good in this league. One day we want to be one of those type of (elite) players and I think we both can do it.’’
Bacon was FSU’s leading scorer last season at 17.2 points per game, but he credited highly recruited Isaac (12 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) for making the Seminoles a 26-9 team that reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament. He always knew that Isacc would not only be in the NBA, but would be a big-time pro someday.
“(Isaac) came in and changed our (FSU) team big-time and took us from being an average team to a good team and we were ranked all year,’’ Bacon said of the 20-year-old Isaac. “He obviously could have done a lot more for us, but he’s not a selfish guy. He plays within the team and he loves the game.’’
UP NEXT: Orlando will conclude its second of 15 back-to-back sets of games on Monday when it faces the Pelicans in New Orleans. The Pelicans recently added former Magic standout Jameer Nelson and forward Josh Smith because of injuries and they got superstar forward Anthony Davis back from a scare with his knee. New Orleans (3-3) routed the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night 123-101 behind a triple-double from DeMarcus Cousins (29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) and a big night from Davis (30 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks).
The Magic will get a much-deserved day off on Tuesday before wrapping up their three-game road trip in Memphis on Wednesday. Orlando will be back at the Amway Center on Friday to host the rebuilding Chicago Bulls.
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