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Magic Notebook: Aaron Gordon’s big night, missing Nikola Vucevic

The Magic got a career night from Aaron Gordon, but it wasn’t enough as the defense continues to falter without Nikola Vucevic.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Gordon’s career night

Shooting from range, driving to the basket, posting up, flying high of highlight reel dunks, you name it, Aaron Gordon did it on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers. On a night where the Magic offense moved the ball at a high rate, finishing with 29 assists on 42 made field goals, it was Gordon who carried the scoring load for the Magic, finishing with a career-high 33.

From the opening tip, Gordon was the aggressor for the Magic offense, taking the smaller J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers into the post to try and get easy buckets. When the Clippers would switch on the Magic’s screens, Gordon would take advantage of having a big on him, taking them off the dribble or stepping back to take an uncontested jumper. The third-year pro was able to show off the entire offensive arsenal, something he had yet to do in his career.

Defensively Gordon was equally as challenged, being tasked with chasing Redick off of screens, something he does better than anyone else in the league. He was able to keep the sharpshooter relatively quiet, holding him to just 10 points on the night.

Magic head man Frank Vogel was pleased with how Gordon finished the night. “At his best, he’s a two way wing player that is taking any matchup that comes his way defensively,” said Vogel. “They like to get him [Redick] going early in games, and Aaron was draped all over him, did a great job on him. Much like I used Paul George in Indiana defensively, we like the ability to put him on point guards and use his length and space to be able to switch things onto a big... It was a great all-around basketball game for him and I’m proud of him.”

The best perimeter defender on the roster, Gordon has been tasked with some tough matchups this season, and will continue to be as the season wears on. As he becomes more comfortable on that end, with the schemes that the team is running, he’s going to continue to be a real threat against multiple positions.

“Just play hard, play with energy,” said Gordon when asked about his mindset going into the game. “Take what the defense was giving me, and it worked out.”

Despite things “working out” for Gordon, he was disappointed that the team was unable to take home the win, which was more important.

The big night can only be a stepping stone for Gordon, specifically on the offensive end. Gordon saw the ball go through the net, which can go a long way confidence wise for a player, and a team. Gordon is a key cog for the Magic, and will be moving forward, especially if he can replicate performances like he had on Wednesday night.

Missing Vucevic

For the third straight game, the Magic were without one of their mainstays in the middle, Nikola Vucevic. Dealing with a lower back contusion, Vucevic’s absence has been felt through-and-through for the Magic, especially on the defensive end.

While Vucevic still isn’t known as a defender, he’s improved dramatically on that end this season. With the tutelage of Frank Vogel, Vucevic has shown a better understanding of defensive schemes, and the right and wrong places to be. While Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka get much of the bright lights defensively, it’s Vucevic who has really kept the team intact there, and it’s showing.

When Biyombo and/or Ibaka are on the floor, they have a tendency to try and use their athleticism to go for blocks more often than not, leaving guards to crash down and box out the opposing teams bigs. If they’re unable to secure the block, it leaves the Magic’s defense with a big hole, and likely an easy second chance opportunity for the opposing team.

Looking at the team with Vucevic, it’s much different. The seven-footer is much more of a grounded player, not going for blocks, rather biting his time and settling for a contest that allows him to keep his position for defensive rebounds. On the season, Vucevic sports a 33.9 defensive rebounding percentage, nearly six points higher than his previous season high.

Aside from missing him on the defensive end, the team has also missed him from a depth point of view. Vogel turned to “Hack-a-Jordan” in the third quarter, partially to play the percentages against DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, but partially to gain more time rest wise for the likes of Ibaka and Biyombo. With limited depth in the front court, the Magic desperately need to get Vucevic back if they want to keep things afloat.

While Vucevic’s absence has allowed the Magic to try a smaller lineup with Ibaka at the five, it’s lasting impact on the defense is more damaging, despite the stellar offensive play with Ibaka at the center spot.

Vucevic is listed as day-to-day, and will hopefully be back soon if the Magic hope to turn things back around on the defensive end.