By John Denton
Oct. 27, 2017
ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic head into tonight’s showdown against the San Antonio Spurs tied atop the Eastern Conference with a 3-1 record, they own a blowout victory against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and their offense ranks in the top five in the league in most every major category.
Still, as head coach Frank Vogel reminded, the team has accomplished little to nothing so far what with there being 78 games still to play.
“Not yet,’’ Vogel said when asked at what point the Magic can think that they have arrived as a legitimate NBA power. “When I watch the tape I see all the areas we need to get better in and there are a lot of areas of improvement. We’re happy with our start, but we certainly have a lot of areas where we need to get better.’’
And Vogel was just getting started, adding: “I would certainly hope that we’re not feeling (content). I know some of our guys are getting text messages from their families saying, `best record in the Eastern Conference,’ but that’s like saying, `Hey, we’re 1-0 and have the best record in the league.’ That’s a little bit of a laughable joke, but it’s better than being 0-4 and 1-3. But we have to keep the right perspective and I don’t think anybody is getting ahead of themselves.’’
The Magic know that they can’t get ahead of themselves what with the Spurs (4-0) dead ahead tonight at the Amway Center (7 p.m. tipoff, TV: Fox Sports Florida). San Antonio is one of just two undefeated teams in the NBA – the Los Angeles Clippers are the other – after it whipped the Heat in Miami on Wednesday night. The Spurs are smothering foes with a NBA-best 91.8 points per game allowed and they are winning games by an average of 9.8 points a night. Here’s the kicker: They are doing it all without MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and veteran point guard Tony Parker.
Tonight’s game will feature a test of wills as the Magic want to play a smallish frontline that includes Aaron Gordon at power forward while pushing the tempo with a breakneck pace and the Spurs will counter with towering big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol and a slow-down style of play. Orlando ranks third in the NBA in scoring (119 ppg.), fourth in field goal percentage (48 percent), first in 3-point accuracy (45.5 percent) and fourth in free throw percentage (83.7 percent).
Gordon is coming off a career night on Tuesday when he pumped in 41 points and made all five of his 3-point shots. He final attempt – a 3-pointer from the left wing with 36 seconds to play – allowed the Magic to topple the resurgent Brooklyn Nets 125-121.
Gordon, who has played just two games because of injury but leads the team in scoring (27.5 ppg.), is well aware that tonight’s showdown against San Antonio will most likely be 180 degrees different than Tuesday’s. He’ll have to contend with the size and skill of Aldridge (26 ppg., 8.8 rpg., 1.5 bpg.) and San Antonio’s methodical, grind-it-out style of play.
“We’ve just got to work hard and do our (defensive) work early to make it difficult for them and try to throw their cadence off all night long,’’ said Gordon, who scored 27 points against San Antonio in the preseason despite picking up two early fouls in the game while guarding Aldridge. “Offensively, we’ve got to be in a rhythm and defensively we all need to be connected. Do those things and we’ll be all right.’’
The game will feature Magic guard Jonathon Simmons facing his former team for the first time in the regular season. Simmons, who starred for the Spurs in the playoffs last spring while Leonard was out injured, had 20 points and 10 assists in San Antonio when Orlando won there in the preseason. Simmons said his emotions tonight will come from seeing former teammates he is still close with and because of his strong relationship with coach Gregg Popovich.
“Being in Orlando is everything that I wanted and what I’ve hoped for and I’m glad that I made the decision to be here,’’ said Simmons, who left the Spurs to sign with the Magic in free agency in July. “It’s more emotional just seeing those (Spurs) people and the relationships that I grew in two years. Basketball is business and I’ll handle it like that. But I’ll get to chat it up with some of those (San Antonio) guys tonight.’’
Both Simmons and Gordon said they are keeping the Magic’s hot start in perspective because, well, they have yet to accomplish anything in this young season. A game like tonight’s against the methodical, machine-like Spurs should keep the Magic focused on the task at hand.
“We have seasoned veterans on this team like Mo (Speights) and Arron (Afflalo) who put things into perspective and bring us back down to reality,’’ Gordon said. “They do a great job of embracing what we have and keeping our minds on trying to go out and get a win.’’
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