Mario Hezonja’s night
Often, injuries lead to opportunity for other players.
For Mario Hezonja, his opportunity came, once again, Wednesday night for the Orlando Magic against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Starting in place of Aaron Gordon, who had yet to pass the NBA’s mandated concussion protocol, Hezonja put together one of, if not the best game of his career. Despite struggling for much of the second half, Hezonja finished the night one rebound shy of his first career double-double, notching 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
In a game where the Magic had few bright spots, Hezonja was, arguably, the brightest.
While he still struggled with his shot — he finished 2-6 from beyond the arc — the Croatian wing showed off some of the tantalizing upside that had some licking their chops for him in the draft three years ago. Hezonja electrified the crowd with a chase down block on Austin Rivers, and showed off some of the upside he has as a passer, and a finisher.
“Yeah, the kids got some ability,” said Magic coach Frank Vogel when asked about his performance. “He struggled the last couple of years to find his niche. If he’s getting the consistent minutes, you’re going to see flashes like that in the development of a young player.”
The development has come slow for Hezonja thus far. Early on he was in the dog house of coach Scott Skiles, and in his second year, struggled to find consistent minutes, and production, under Vogel.
Now in his third, and likely final year, in Orlando, Hezonja still hasn’t been able to crack the rotation.
Despite that, he’s still able to show off some of the things that make him an interesting prospect, and Wednesday night was a prime example of it.
“He played really well tonight,” said Nikola Vucevic. “He played aggressive, he played smart, he made some really good plays for us, rebounded the ball well, made some good defensive plays. It’s not easy when you don’t play for so long, you’re not getting minutes, you’re not in a game rhythm.
To come in and play well, he played well in Atlanta for his first game after such a long time. I’m happy for him. He works hard, he gives his best everyday in practice, he competes waiting for his chance, and he’s taking advantage of it.”
Sometimes all you need is a chance, and right now, Hezonja is making the most out of his. With the injury bug still likely to effect the Magic for the foreseeable future — Aaron Gordon could return Friday night, while Jonathan Isaac is likely to return to practice Thursday with Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross both out an extended period — Hezonja could keep getting those minutes.
If he’s able to come in and play like he did Wednesday night, Hezonja could see himself as a regular in the Magic rotation moving forward.
With injuries decimating the roster, coach Vogel had to try and find something, anything that would work.
That was a struggle for the Magic, who lacked energy from the start, despite jumping to an early 12-point lead. The lead was short lived, with the Clippers storming back thanks to their hot shooting, and forcing the Magic into turnovers.
“Just feel the game out,” said Vogel when asked about the rotations, and how tough it is to trust guys he hasn’t seen much of. “See what’s working, and you try to rely on your main guys to have big nights, and Vuc and Sims did that in Atlanta the other night. You see if you have any sparks within any of your role players.”
Very little seemed to work on the night, and that plagued the Magic in the end.
It’s possible Vogel could’ve turned to more of his bench — mostly made up of players who have played in the G-League this year— but the limited trust factor likely had an impact.
That being said, it would’ve been nice to see Vogel try something else. Give Jamel Artis, one the Magic’s two-way contract players, an opportunity to show what he can do. Turn to Adreian Payne or Khem Birch over Marreese Speights to try and find some energy, and defense, at the four.
It wasn’t working for the Magic the way they were running it, and that ultimately cost them. The lack of energy from everyone hurt them up and down on the night.
Maybe, just maybe, the outcome would’ve been different if Vogel had turned to his bench a little more.