Orlando Magic get a brief glimpse of a hopeful future

Apr 6, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic shooting guard Elfrid Payton (4) and Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon (00) celebrate a last second shot in the second quarter at Amway Center. The Magic won 107-115. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic shooting guard Elfrid Payton (4) and Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon (00) celebrate a last second shot in the second quarter at Amway Center. The Magic won 107-115. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports /

For one game, the Orlando Magic relied heavily on their young players and got a brief glimpse of what the team could look like on this path.

147. Final. 115. 38. 107

If the Orlando Magic are looking for a play to hold onto that suggests something positive about their future, they may have found it in the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets.

Mario Hezonja got out in transition against a three-man front for Brooklyn. He found Elfrid Payton curling behind him who began his attack on the basket. And that is when he saw Aaron Gordon coming. The rest was pretty self-evident.

Or maybe not.

Elfrid Payton threw it off the backboard and Aaron Gordon jammed it home with ease over the retreating Brooklyn defense. Orlando was having some fun again, using Jodie Meeks‘ 18-point flamethrower third quarter to pull away and deliver an 115-107 win over Brooklyn at Amway Center on Thursday.

It was one of many connections between Gordon and Payton that have become much more common since the team picked up its pace and started spreading the floor more with shooters. The small ball lineup has helped both Payton and Gordon tremendously.

And right now the young guys who are likely to be part of the Magic’s future are taking over.

"“It’s been a tough year for us in the win-loss column,” coach Frank Vogel told Orlando Magic Daily. “But those two guys have developed, especially in the second half of the season. But each game they are getting a little bit better and a little bit more confident. They were both terrific tonight.”"

Gordon finished with 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting. Payton added 22 points and 11 assists.

The two players’ chemistry has only increased in the weeks since the All-Star Break. Both have experienced an offensive renaissance, at least.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Gordon is averaging 16.0 points per game and shooting 49.4 percent from the floor since the All-Star Break. Payton is averaging 13.4 points per game, 8.3 assists per game and 7.3 rebounds per game since the break.

These past few weeks have been Gordon and Payton at their best, leading the team. Thursday’s game was a game that showed off the Magic’s future.

Part of that was done on purpose.

Vogel entered the game Thursday purposefully trying to get his young players more playing time. While he still started Terrence Ross, he said he would not play him in the second half to give recent signees Marcus Georges-Hunt and Patricio Garino more playing time.

Marcus Georges-Hunt ended up finishing the game, scoring five critical points for the team as Orlando fended off Brooklyn.

"“It was real big being that coach believed in me and gave me the opportunity to finish with the first group,” Georges-Hunt told Orlando Magic Daily. “It gave me even more confidence and made me take it up a notch more.”"

Georges-Hunt finished with eight points in 20:16 of play. It took him a while to get going as he did not make his first basket until midway through the fourth quarter. But that floater from the baseline proved to be a big one, giving the Magic a nine-point lead with 6:24 to go.

That was about as close as the Nets would get for the rest of the game and got the Magic going for Payton to check back in.

Georges-Hunt largely has to keep his role simple for now. Playing defense and hitting open shots are all the team is relying on him for right now. But he showed plenty of that, adding seven rebounds to his tally to boot.

Patricio Garino also did a lot of those subtle plays. Garino said after the game he was admittedly a bit nervous to be playing his first home NBA game — and in his adopted home of Orlando from his high school days at Montverde Academy. He missed all four of his shots, but he did plenty of good things defensively to merit some more playing time.

Vogel’s plan to focus on playing the young guys even saw the team play Stephen Zimmerman for 8:34, essentially splitting the backup center duties with Bismack Biyombo. Stephen Zimmerman was plenty active, but also struggled, particularly defensively in the rare moments he matched up with Brook Lopez.

Vogel said all three looked very comfortable, which is a good sign from players so young and experiencing their first run of real NBA action.

This was a game for the young guys. And, to varying degrees, they all had some moments of success.

"“They played well,” Payton told Orlando Magic Daily. “Definitely something that is tough to do to come in on a 10-day and try to get adjusted. They played well. Marcus was able to hit that big 3 for us. [Patricio] played well too. I’m proud of those guys.”"

Even Mario Hezonja, another player who is clearly part of their future, stepped up in a big way. Hezonja was solid again defensively with two blocks and a few strips on his man on defense. He also shot efficiently with the added responsibility and players out for the Magic. He scored 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting.

All the young players made their imprint on this game. That was the design Vogel had in choosing this game as the one to throw the young players out there.

It is an imprint everyone hopes becomes permanent.

"[I’m] definitely trying to make an imprint,” Payton told Orlando Magic Daily. “Definitely trying to establish a way that we’re going to play. Like I said, we’re finding an offensive identity. Just have to try and work on finding a defensive identity.”"

But, no, Zimmerman, Georges-Hunt and Garino are not likely to play these heavy minutes again. Vogel said he opted to play the young players heavy minutes largely because of the opponent. He has respect for teams playing in Playoff races and wants to play his best players against them.

Not that the Nets did not have his respect, but it was a chance to throw these young players out there without impacting playoff storylines that really matter. Terrence Ross and Bismack Biyombo will return to their normal minutes Saturday.

But Gordon and Payton certainly put their stamp on this game. Even Hezonja had some strong contributions.

It may not be the clear vision for the team’s future that fans will want to see. Or even the picture that may seem the most ideal.

Next: Grades: Orlando Magic 115, Brooklyn Nets 107

But the Magic are finishing this season behind the youthful resurgence from players like Gordon, Payton and Hezonja. And they are simply hoping that is enough to carry some momentum forward.