By John Denton
April 9, 2017
CHICAGO – Terrence Ross is a thousand miles away from where he was this time a year ago – literally and figuratively in basketball terms – but with each passing day sunny Orlando feels more and more like home to him.
Still in the hotel where he’s stayed for nearly two months after being traded to the Magic on Feb. 14, Ross recently put down permanent roots in the Central Florida area by becoming a home-owner. He can’t move in until June 1, but he said he’ll not only be here to personally do that, but he also has every intention of spending his offseason in Orlando to familiarize himself with the area and work on his game.
Fresh off a dazzling 29-point, six-3-pointer night on Saturday, Ross is also starting to look more at home on a Magic squad where he is more of a focal point. Individual success for Ross has come in short, quick bursts thus far, but team success has eluded him since he arrived in Orlando.
That’s where the distance between now and this time last year comes in. In the spring of 2016, Ross was preparing to help the Toronto Raptors go on the longest postseason run in franchise history. Now, as a member of the rebuilding Magic, Ross is readying himself for an extended offseason and playoff basketball that he will only watch on television.
Still, Orlando is home to him now, and he’s already looking forward to the day when he is helping to guide the Magic through the postseason gauntlet.
“It’s different – night and day different – but you’ve just got to approach things the same way,’’ Ross said, referring to the mentality differences between readying for the playoffs and the offseason. “Approach every game strong and try to carry momentum into the next season. Really, it’s just about trying to play the right way and stay checked in.’’
The Magic (28-52) hope to have Ross and their sagging defense checked in on Monday when they face the mercurial Bulls (39-41) in Chicago. The Bulls will be in must-win mode after blowing a nine-point fourth-quarter lead and suffering a potentially devastating loss to the woeful Nets on Saturday in Brooklyn. Chicago, which got Dwyane Wade back on Saturday following time away with a fractured elbow, is tied with Miami (39-41) for the final playoff spot and likely will need to win out to avoid missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
“I’m sure (the Bulls) will give it their all and it’s a must-win for them,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who was frustrated by Orlando’s lack of defensive urgency in Saturday’s 127-112 home loss to the Indiana Pacers. “I’m sure we’ll regroup, try to finish the season out the best way that we can and be ready to play. We’ll have to, otherwise if we don’t bring our best it will be ugly for us. We have to respond and play the best that we can.’’
Ross played about the best that he can in Saturday’s defeat, opening the game with three straight 3-pointers and finishing with the season-best 29 points. For the game, he made 10 of 17 shots, six of 11 3-pointers and all three of his free throws – success that reminded head coach Frank Vogel that Ross is growing more comfortable in the Magic’s small-ball, 3-point-heavy system. Vogel thinks that Ross is going to be a perfect fit with how the Magic want to play going forward.
“Terrence has been great since the day he stepped a foot in (Orlando’s Amway Center) on both ends of the floor,’’ Vogel said. “Offensively he’s been really carrying the load for us. He’s capable of getting hot, he’s very versatile and he’s a shooter who is capable of making plays off the bounce. You can use him in pick-and-rolls, he attacks in the open court and he can finish. It was a great pickup for us mid-season.’’
Whereas in Toronto Ross was stuck behind all-stars Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, in Orlando he is often the target of Vogel’s play calls out of time outs and at big moments in games. That newfound trust has allowed the 6-foot-7 guard to average 13.4 points in 22 games with the Magic – up from the 9.9 points he scored in complementary fashion while playing off Toronto’s bench. Then, there’s this: Ross is getting 11.8 shots a game now as opposed to the 8.6 tries he notched in Toronto.
“It’s fun and that’s why you want to play the game. I’m enjoying it,’’ Ross said of being looked to more by his teammates. “But it’s still frustrating when we don’t get more wins out of it. I’m kind of over the taking more shots thing and worried more about how I am going to win.’’
One thing that could lead to more winning in the future is Ross solving the streakiness that has always been there with his shot. The belief in Orlando was that once he got more of a consistent role and more consistent minutes, he would become a more consistent shooter. That’s still very much a work in progress as he’s connected on 43.5 percent of his field goal attempts and just 34.8 percent of his threes.
“You just play your game. Whether you make your first shot or not you don’t let that deter you from playing your style because then you will go into a slump,’’ Ross said of his ups and downs. “The more I play my game, the more consistent I’ll get.’’
Most likely, he’ll play that game in Orlando for years to come after the Magic committed to him with the mid-season trade for power forward Serge Ibaka.
After spending five years in Toronto – the longest he’s been in one city is a couple of decades – Ross considers Orlando his home now. And that’s a good thing considering that he’s lived in gloomy Portland, Seattle and Toronto for much of his life. He thinks there’s a very bright future ahead – both for himself and the Magic.
“It’s a good changeup from things being cloudy and cold all the time, so I won’t care how hot it gets, I’m looking forward to the summer,’’ said Ross, a theme-park aficionado who has already taken in most of Orlando’s attractions.
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