By John Denton
Oct. 7, 2017
ORLANDO – The sample size thus far is still exceptionally small, but the Orlando Magic are excited about the endless possibilities of using one particular five-man grouping that should be heavy on defense, length and toughness.
Magic coach Frank Vogel has used the preseason to experiment with different player groupings and he liked what he saw this past Thursday when he played point guard Elfrid Payton, shooting guard Jonathon Simmons, small forward Jonathan Isaac, power forward Aaron Gordon and center Bismack Biyombo together. All five are known for their defense and they have the potential to give opposing offenses fits with their length, strength and willingness to play physical basketball.
“That’s scary for other teams because there is a lot of athleticism out there and a lot of guys who can guard (point guard) through (power forward),’’ Payton said. “There’s so much speed and athleticism there. Even though we’d be seen as a small unit, Jonathon (Simmons) is athletic, Isaac is athletic, A.G. is athletic and I don’t think we’d lose anything on the rebounding end. I look forward to seeing that (lineup) more.’’
Vogel also wants to see more from that grouping and plans to experiment with it throughout the rest of the preseason. Because that unit would lack outside shooting, Vogel thinks that he would likely only go to that defensive grouping late in games when the Magic need a stop. Or, potentially, Orlando could spring it on foes out of a timeout to bring energy and toughness to games.
“It’s not the best shooting group on the offensive end, so we still have to cover some things there and be smart. But defensively that group could be really good,’’ Vogel said.
ISAAC `NBA-READY’ ALREADY: The Magic have made it known that they have every intention of being especially patient with Isaac, the rookie who turned 20 on Tuesday night. Having played just one season of college basketball and weighing a rail-thin 210 pounds, Orlando is well aware that there are going to be some growing pains this season for the No. 6 pick from last June’s NBA Draft.
However, Vogel did say there was some wiggle room when it comes to Isaac on the defensive end of the floor. Because of his 7-foot wingspan, towering height and lateral quickness and his high basketball IQ, Vogel said he won’t hesitate to use the rookie as a potential defensive ace all throughout this season.
“For me, anything he does on the offensive end is gravy; he’s got a good feel on the offensive end, but he’s NBA-ready to come in and impact our team on the defensive end right now,’’ Vogel said of Isaac, who blocked three shots and snagged two steals in his first two preseason games. “He’s showed it every time. We’ve seen his length at the rim and his ability to guard on the perimeter. It’s beyond his years.
“He’s still going to get cracked and learned the tricks of some of the vets and he’s going to be picked on by some of the officials, but I’m very impressed as anyone would be who has been watching him on the defensive end,’’ Vogel added. “He’s going to give us a big lift there.’’
RIVALS REPORT: The Miami Heat were one of the NBA’s feel-good stories last season after they rallied from a dismal 11-30 start with an improbable 13-game winning streak. The Heat finished 41-41 – quite the feat considering their dismal first 41 games of the season – but they ultimately missed the playoffs, in large part, because of their lack of success against the rival Magic.
Miami thrashed the Magic in last year’s season opener at the Amway Center, but Orlando rebounded to win the final three meetings between the teams. Two of those wins came with Serge Ibaka in the Magic lineup and the final Magic victory – 110-99 in Orlando on March 3 – came after they had dealt Ibaka to Toronto for guard Terrence Ross.
Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier played especially well against the Heat last season, both averaging 20.3 points over the four meetings. Orlando carved up Miami’s usually stingy defense, shooting 46.8 against the Heat and making 30 3-pointers in the four games.
For a second consecutive season, the Magic will open the regular season against the Heat at the Amway Center – this time on Oct. 18. In the history of the two franchises, they have previously played each other in season-openers three times with the Magic winning two of those games.
Both Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and Vogel said there likely would be little to come out of Saturday’s preseason game that could be carried over to the season-opener on Oct. 18.
“Anytime you play a team you are going to play, you can get a feel for what they do and what we’re trying to do against it,’’ Vogel said. “Certainly, we’ll get a feel for them and they’ll get a feel for us. But I’m sure Spo’ is not going to tip his hand too much in terms of coverages and (after timeout plays), but I’ll be doing the same.’’
Said Spoelstra: “You always can (use information from the preseason game), but right now the focus is solely on us. We want to get to our game, understand what our identity is and how we want to play. We’ll get to 10 days from now when we get there, but right now we’re trying to iron out what we want to do. … I don’t believe in that (masking the game plan). Opening Night, we’re going to be here and we’re not trying to hide anything. Our game is either going to be good enough or it’s not going to be good enough, but for now we’ve got to iron out some things.’’
UP NEXT: The Magic won’t practice on Sunday, but they will fly to Texas for a couple of preseason games in the coming days. Orlando will face the Mavericks in Dallas on Monday. The Magic whipped Dallas 112-89 at the Amway Center on Thursday, but seven veteran Mavs and head coach Rich Carlisle did not make the trip because of either rest or illness.
Orlando plays in San Antonio on Wednesday for its only back-to-back set of games in the preseason. The Magic close the exhibition season on Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Amway Center. That final preseason game is expected to attract a sellout crowd to see the Magic and Cavs.
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