In wake of Vaughn's dismissal, Magic players know defense must improve
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Staggering from a 10-game losing streak and stunned by the firing of Jacque Vaughn, the Orlando Magic went back to work Friday morning intent on regaining their competitive spirit under interim coach James Borrego.
"Guys really like him and appreciate him," center Nikola Vucevic said, hours before Borrego's coaching debut against the Los Angeles Lakers. "And I think he can help us turn this thing around. It's a tough situation for him because he was very close to Jacque. It's on us as players to have his back and support him and do the best we can to make this thing better."
Vaughn and three of his assistants were let go Thursday, less than 24 hours after the Magic gave up more than 100 points at San Antonio for the 14th game in a row. But there were encouraging signs in the 110-103 that went beyond the fact that the Magic were within two points of the lead against the defending NBA champions with less than a minute remaining.
"It's obvious that our defense wasn't at its best the past 10, 15 games," Vucevic said. "It's something we really have to put an emphasis on. We need to play with better effort, have better attention to details. In our last game against the Spurs, we played much better. We were more aggressive, not just running around."
Kyle O'Quinn, the Magic's leading shot-blocker who surprisingly never got off the bench Wednesday night, expressed confidence that Borrego's comments about getting back to making defense their main focus will be taken to heart.
"We showed that we can play defense," O'Quinn said. "So we've got to stick to it. I'm sure he'll throw some schemes in there. We've just got to really believe that we can win games and believe that the only way is on the defensive end."
For players such as O'Quinn, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon who were drafted by the Magic after the hiring of Vaughn, this is the first coaching change they've experienced. Some of their teammates are used to it, even ones who haven't been in the league very long. Borrego is the fourth different head coach that Evan Fournier will play for in less than three years.
The Magic were 15-37 this season under Vaughn, including a 5-17 record at home.
"When there's a teammate that gets traded or a coach that leaves, it's not always easy to deal with," Vucevic said. "But it's part of the business we're in."
With the dismissals of assistant coaches Wes Unseld Jr., Brett Gunning and Zach Guthrie, the only people who Borrego will have to bounce ideas off against the Lakers will be Laron Profit and Jay Hernandez, along with video analyst Matt Hill. It remains to be seen if Borrego allocates minutes differently, especially to players whose time had diminished under Vaughn such as forwards Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson.
"When I'm with the players, I feel at peace about that," Borrego said. "That's where I'm comfortable -- on the court with them, in the film session. That's what I do. I coach."
The Magic's last victory came when they defeated the Houston Rockets 120-113 on Jan. 14. At the time, the win was viewed as a possible turning point for a team which hadn't shown much spark on offense during the first half of its season.
"We have to show people that we're serious about winning," said Oladipo, the Magic's third-leading scorer behind Vucevic and Tobias Harris with a 16.7-point average.
Added Fournier: "We'll see what we're made of."