Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Issac must step up for Orlando Magic against top NBA teams

The Orlando Magic's future depends on how Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac come together. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic's future depends on how Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac come together. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic lost a winnable game on Wednesday night mainly due to terrible defense in the third quarter and a low scoring output from Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac.

The Orlando Magic have to be better after halftime.

The Orlando Magic led the Denver Nuggets 60-45 at halftime. It looked as if the team could pull off a quality win and put behind a difficult Tuesday night loss. This was a character-building opportunity, a true feather the Magic could put in their cap. And on the road in one of the most difficult situations teams face, to boot.

Orlando opened up a 19-point lead early in the third quarter and seemed ready to coast to that victory.

And then it happened, a 16-point performance in the third quarter and a 24-0 run that would change the momentum of the game in favor of the home team. The Nuggets scored 39 points in the third quarter.

The Magic were fighting uphill. While they found their footing to cut it two at one point with a chance to tie, the Nuggets closed the game. The Magic missed open shot after open shot and their best players could not save them.

Sixth-year forward Aaron Gordon and third-year forward Jonathan Isaac combined for only 16 points in the loss.

Aaron Gordon scored only nine points, hitting 4 of 14 shots and 1 for 5 from beyond the arc. Coach Steve Clifford was at a loss to describe what was wrong with Gordon, simply saying he was missing open shots. According to Second Spectrum, Gordon hit on only one of seven shots considered “open” or “wide open” where the closest defender was four or more feet away.

Jonathan Isaac left the game in the third quarter with his fourth foul and then was ruled out with tightness in his hamstring and his back. He is not listed on the team’s injury report and is expected to play Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Isaac finished with seven points on 3-for-6 shooting and five rebounds. Of note, he was the only starter with a positive plus/minus in the game. The Magic were up by 17 when he left the game for good early in the third quarter.

Overall, it was a disappointing performance for two of the Magic’s most important players.

Quite simply, these guys have to play better against the better teams in the NBA if the Magic want a chance to win these games.

The team needs them to maintain fluidity in an offense that played well in the game prior, scoring 130 points against the New Orleans Pelicans in a victory. The Magic hit the Pelicans with a barrage of 3-pointers and the duo of Gordon and Isaac combined for 30 points — 21 from Isaac.

But the Pelicans are a team that the Magic should beat. They are not likely a playoff team and the kind of team the Magic have victimized this year. The Nuggets will most likely host a Playoff series in the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. They are the kind of team the Magic have struggled against.

Orlando is currently 11-3 against teams with losing records. That makes them 1-13 against teams with winning records — the lone win a home victory against the Philadelphia 76ers without Joel Embiid. That kind of split might be just enough to make the playoffs but it is certainly not enough to make noise.

At some point, the Magic will have to beat quality opponents. And it will take these two singular players to get there.

Orlando has had struggles finishing games. The Orlando Magic broke down in the fourth quarter against the pick and roll in the losses to both the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets this week.

A large part of that is the lack of superstar talent on a roster full of promise. The two players with arguably the highest upside have not been consistent enough on the offensive side of the basketball to be labeled anything more than a solid rotational player.

And that may be just enough to get them into the Playoffs but it will not good enough to beat anyone once they get there.

The Magic need these two players to mature quickly if they are ever going to advance in a Playoff series.

Gordon is only averaging 13.3 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 2.9 assists per game this season while shooting 41.6-percent from the floor and 30.0-percent from three. In wins, he averages 15.2 points per game while shooting 37.5-percent from three. In losses, Gordon averages only 11.8 points per game while shooting 23.1-percent on threes.

Meanwhile, Isaac is only averaging 12.4 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game this season while hitting 45.9-percent from the floor and 33.7-percent from beyond the arc. The scoring and overall shooting numbers are career-highs for the third-year forward.

Both have shown plenty of inconsistency offensively all season, although both are vital to the Magic having any chance defensively.

Orlando still runs much of its offense through Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic. But the team needs Gordon and Isaac to be more reliable offensively not only for the team’s future development but to support the current team and make the most out of this group.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Clifford will have to be creative and find ways to get the two forwards in transition and rack up easy buckets at the basket. When they get shots like this, it is a consequence of the Magic’s offense working. Those are their two best qualities — their speed and athleticism.

Orlando’s starting lineup of Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Evan Fournier and Markelle Fultz are a great complement of talent that has not found a way to mesh consistently. The group has a +6.6 net rating this year and is one of the Magic’s best lineups. But it has let them down recently, especially late — that same group has a -11.6 net rating in the fourth quarter.

The Magic’s starting lineup certainly can play better.

While Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier are good in the half-court, Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz and Aaron Gordon are good on the fast break. These are three of the fastest guys at their position in the NBA.

If Clifford can consistently put these three guys (Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross) in positions where they are taking advantage of all of their fast break opportunities, it will develop the players quicker.

The more the players see the ball go in the hoop the more confidence will build. For the Magic, a lot of that starts with Gordon and Isaac.

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