Trail Blazers look to end losing streak against Magic
Like the Trail Blazers, the Magic didn’t make many off-season changes in personnel, opting to let continuity and maturation be their guide to improvement as a team.
Orlando carries a 10-11 record into Wednesday night’s matchup with Portland at Moda Center, coming off a heart-breaking 116-110 loss at Golden State in which the Magic led by 18 points midway through the third quarter.
“It was like a nightmare,” said power forward Aaron Gordon, who went scoreless in 22 minutes and played sparingly in the second half due to back spasms. “I know we could have gotten that one. That was ours for the taking. … it felt like we let one go.”
The Magic are playing some of their best basketball in recent seasons, however, in part because of familiarity with each other. Center Nikola Vucevic has been with the club for seven years. Gordon and shooting guard Evan Fournier are in their fifth season, point guard D.J. Augustin and high-scoring reserve Terence Ross in their third.
The biggest new piece is first-year coach Steve Clifford, who replaced Frank Vogel after the Magic went 25-57 last season.
“A lot of their key guys have some years together now,” Portland forward Al-Farouq Aminu said. “That makes a difference. Sometimes, time together is the most important thing.”
Vucevic is having his best season, averaging 20.4 points and 11.3 rebounds. In the loss to the Warriors, the 7-foot Swiss standout collected 30 points, 12 boards and six assists. In a 108-104 win over the L.A. Lakers at Staples Center on Sunday, Vucevic totaled 31 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.
“Vooch has been doing that all season for us,” Augustin told reporters. “He has been playing like an All-Star. He is definitely one of the best big men in the league. We just play through him.”
Ross, who is averaging 14.1 points off the bench, bombed in 28 points in 28 minutes against the Warriors.
“Vucevic just keeps getting better, and Ross seems to be coming into his own,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “They’re melding together as a unit.”
The Blazers (12-8) will be trying to snap a three-game losing streak, and they may have to do it without center Jusuf Nurkic, who did not play in the second half of Sunday’s 104-100 home loss to the L.A. Clippers after taking an elbow to a shoulder. Nurkic did not participate in contact drills during Tuesday’s practice session.
“I got hit pretty good,” he said. “It was kind of nasty, but I’ll be fine. Hopefully, I can play (Wednesday).”
After successive losses to Milwaukee, Golden State and the Clippers, Portland’s offensive and defensive ratings have taken a plunge.
“We’re hitting a rough patch,” Damian Lillard said. “Early on, everybody’s body was fresh, everybody’s mind was fresh. The bounce was going our way. Everything was happening right for us. We did a lot of simple things to put ourselves in position to win games on both ends of the floor. Our communication was on point. On offense, we were much sharper.
“We just haven’t been as sharp on either end of the floor. We’ve been too spotty. We don’t have the luxury of doing that. We’re not a team that can do what we want whenever we want. We have to play in a certain way and our minds have to be in a certain place or we can get beat. It’s fragile, the way we have to play to win games.”