By John Denton
Nov. 13, 2017
OAKLAND – Frank Vogel tried keeping a straight face and a serious tone as he spoke before laughter leaked out the big smile that formed.
Asked why his Orlando Magic have been one of the NBA’s best third-quarter teams this season – second only to the World Champion Golden State Warriors – Vogel initially joked it was because of his gripping halftime speeches. Ultimately, he relented and pointed to his team’s focus to detail and determination for their stellar performances just after halftime this season.
“You’ve got to credit the halftime speeches and the coach – that’s where it all starts,’’ Vogel said while trying to restrain his laughter. “(Legendary former Notre Dame coach) Knute Rockne, I think I’m related to him. I must be with those third-quarter numbers.
“We’re not trying to lull anybody to sleep in any way and we’re trying to win every possession in all four quarters, but those numbers that have played out in third quarters, they have been strong,’’ Vogel said in all seriousness. “That’s been a good thing for us.’’
When the Magic (8-5) face the surging Warriors (10-3) tonight at noisy Oracle Arena, the outcome could come down to the all-important third quarter – a time when Orlando and Golden State have so often made their moves and laid the foundation for wins. The Warriors regularly batter foes in the third quarter, ranking first in the NBA in scoring (32.6 points on average). Meanwhile, the Magic have been nearly as dominant with their third-quarter production (29.8 points), good for second in the NBA.
“I didn’t know that, but now that I think about it that makes sense for us,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic said of his team’s third-quarter success. “
The Magic will be trying to bounce back from a lopsided loss in Denver on Saturday night, while the Warriors are surging once again. Since starting the season with a sluggish 4-3 record, Golden State has ripped off six straight wins – each by 17 or more points while lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of a whopping 122.8 points a night.
On Saturday, the Warriors outscored Philadelphia 36-21 in the third period and coasted to a 135-114 victory. Kevin Durant had 29 points, Stephen Curry racked 22 points and nine assists, Klay Thompson added 23 points and four threes and Draymond Green did a little bit of everything with 10 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. And here are the numbers that absolutely send chills a defense like Orlando’s: The Warriors shot 58.5 percent from the floor on Saturday, 51.9 percent at the 3-point line and 31 of their 48 field goals came off assists.
Having point guard Elfrid Payton back tonight should help the Magic. Orlando is 3-0 this season in games that he’s finished because of the pace and flow he brings to the team’s offense – something that is a must against the high-scoring Warriors.
“You’ve got to be efficient offensively and you can’t let (Golden State’s runs) get you down,’’ said Payton, who has been in and out of the lineup for weeks because of lingering soreness in his left hamstring. “It’s probably going to happen (where Golden State strings together several points), but you have to be able to fight back from it.’’
Orlando will be without versatile rookie forward Jonathan Isaac, who badly sprained his right ankle in Saturday’s loss in Denver. Isaac swatted a shot, but landed on Emmanuel Mudiay’s foot, causing his ankle to roll over. The 6-foot-10 big man has been wearing a walking boot over his ankle since Saturday and losing him hurts Orlando’s ability to switch defensively in the pick-and-roll plays that Golden State loves to run to get their shooters space.
If the first half is close – as it should be with two of the top teams in the NBA going at it after a day of rest – the game could come down to what transpires in that all-important third quarter. Vogel knows the Magic need to be solid – offensively and defensively – to keep pace with what he calls “the best team in the world.’’
“You’ve got to be efficient offensively and if you are turning the ball over and getting your shot blocked – they lead the league in blocks – then they are in transition and it’s going to be a long night,’’ he said. “Defense starts with an efficient offense.’’
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