I'm going to start this item out with an asterisk: the Orlando Magic still got nearly 100 possessions Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies, despite the Grizzlies' slowing the pace and, in turn, the Magic.
After getting out and having success early, Memphis' grit-and-grind style slowly began to catch up with the Magic. After a 28-point first quarter, Orlando scored 21, 25, and 22 in the final three quarters, due in large part to Memphis' slower style of play.
With pace slowed, the Magic were forced to try to execute in the half court, something they've been unable to do for much of the season. They had to work even harder against one of the best defensive teams in the league. The ball began to stick and shots became forced, which helped Memphis not only get out on the break, but also to slow it down and limit the chances the Magic had. A 33-point third quarter, due in large part to Memphis' shooting 10-of-13 from the charity stripe, was more than enough once you add in Memphis' 16-point advantage in the painted area.
Maintaining their desired fast pace is something that the Magic have to continue to learn to do, and they know that. They aren't going to be able to produce the way that they have the last few games every night playing at that pace, it's just not plausible. With their heightened pace, the Magic will get the day off on Saturday, and not hold a shootaround on Sunday as a way to try to freshen up before a meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Coach Jacque Vaughn said that no matter what, the team tries to impose their will getting up and down the court.
"I think we were pretty aggressive defensively," he said. "I think we battled tonight, but you give those guys credit, they have been doing it together for a long time." Vaughn also talked about how the addition of Jeff Green is a great one for the Grizz, but credited his own guys for battling.
The third-year coach also said he didn't feel as though his team lost the will battle, but it was more so their sets taking up a lot of time in the shot clock. "I thought overall we got them late into some shot-clock situations where we still contested different shots from those guys, but overall they are very deliberate. We tried to push the pace for a little bit. They had two big boys down that middle that make it pretty tough."
Victor Oladipo talked about the team needing to keep playing with the pace it had the last two games no matter what the situation may be. "We found our way to play," he said. "We've got to play it no matter what. If we miss shots, make shots, we still have to play it. So, the positive is that we're still playing the same way." Oladipo also gave credit to the Grizzlies for playing great defense, adding that it was "a great lesson for us."
It was only a matter of time until someone was able to slow the Magic down, and against a Memphis team whose known for its grind-it-out style, it's not a surprise. If Orlando wants to continue to succeed, it needs to stay the course and keep pushing the pace, while also finding a way to execute better in the half-court offense. It's a learning experience, and it'll be interesting to see how they take this and use it against the Thunder and on this season.
Gordon getting closer to return
After being listed as probable prior to shootaround on Friday morning, Aaron Gordon ended up sitting out once again as he continues to rehab from his broken left foot. With the "probable" tag, many fans thought Gordon would play, but that simply was not the case. Coach Vaughn cited Gordon's not having gone through a five-on-five practice as the reason he would not play.
With the team taking Saturday off, and not having a scheduled shootaround on Sunday, it could still be nearly a week until we see Gordon on the court. After their matchup with the Thunder, Orlando has Monday and Tuesday off before their third meeting of the season with the Detroit Pistons. If Gordon is able to get through a five-on-five practice, he should be good to go by then, assuming the team feels he is ready to play.
With Tobias Harris out, and Maurice Harkless struggling, the team is in desperate need of some help on the wing. Gordon, who views himself as a small forward, would've been a perfect fit not only against the Grizzlies, but looking ahead to the game with the Thunder, due to their size at the small forward positions with Green and Kevin Durant respectively.
The Magic will welcome Gordon's return, and it could potentially push them forward as they continue to find their true identities. He's fit to play in this uptempo style, and with his hardworking mentality on the defensive end, he could give them a lift on that end as well.
Odds and Ends
- Elfrid Payton notched career-highs in both points (22) and assists (12) Friday. He was finding ways to the rim and wasn't afraid to take the shot. It's another step in the long journey that he's currently facing.
- There still remains no timetable for Harris' return. The Orlando forward missed his fourth straight game Friday with a sprained ankle. He was seen coming in and out of the locker room prior to the game after doing some work, so it's possible that we could see him return any night now. Once he does return, it'll be interesting to see how he fits into the new running system that the Magic have employed over the last week.