Clifford hopes to keep Magic going vs. Hornets
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Steve Clifford's first game coaching the Orlando Magic was a success built on defense and hustle down the stretch.
Now he will try to win his second game Friday night when the Magic host the Charlotte Hornets
Before Clifford replaced Frank Vogel in the offseason, he spent the previous five seasons coaching the Hornets.
Clifford was 196-214 with Charlotte, reaching the high-water mark of 48 wins in 2015-16 before consecutive 36-win seasons. He quickly joined the Magic and a team with the core of Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic.
"I loved my time there," Clifford said after practice Thursday. "I have good relationships with a lot of the players and a lot of the people. The people in the city were great to me and the first four years frankly I'm really proud of. Last year for a number of reasons we should have played better but for the first four years I was there I was proud of what we stood for."
Gordon, Fournier and Vucevic all contributed toward Clifford winning his first game coaching Orlando, though it was hardly easy.
The Magic opened up with a 104-101 victory over the Miami Heat, getting the win despite not making a field goal for the final 4 1/2 minutes and after trailing by 14 in the first quarter.
"We're resilient, we have a lot more depth than we had last year and everybody is coming ready to play," Gordon told reporters. "Everybody is locked in and bought in and that's what helped us win this game."
Gordon led the Magic with 26 points and tied a career high with 16 rebounds. Fournier added 13 while Vucevic contributed 12 but ultimately it came down to rookie Mohammed Bamba's usage.
Bamba also added 13 points and had a pair of dunks and a block during a key run in the fourth quarter.
"Offensively, we were here and there, but the story of the game was the bench," Clifford said after his bench combined for 36 points. "When they went in the game they picked up our defense and we played offense off our defense, which is something you have to do earlier in the year."
Meanwhile, Clifford's former team is coming off a tough season opener. The Hornets fell short in the debut of coach James Borrego, who used a smaller lineup down the stretch in Wednesday's 113-112 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 41 points though he missed a driving layup with 3.4 seconds left. Walker recorded his 10th career 40-point game and his next one will tie the team record set by Glen Rice.
The Hornets nearly overcame a 20-point deficit while playing a lineup of five players 6 feet 8 or shorter in Walker, Tony Parker, Malik Monk, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nic Batum that went on a 21-9 run to tie the game with five minutes left.
"I think we just found a group that wanted to play," said Borrego, who was 10-20 as the interim coach of the Magic in the 2014-15 season. "They played with more urgency. They were fighting on the defensive end. For us to be a good defensive team this year we have to be urgent from the start. The starting unit wasn't prepared for this game mentally or physically, to get us off to a good start."
Ultimately the Hornets continued a trend from last season, when they were 8-12 in games decided by five points or fewer.
"That's kind of the story of our season, I feel like last year we were in a lot of ball games that came down to situations like that," Charlotte forward Marvin Williams said. "We're going to get better.
"We've got to get off to a better start and put ourselves in position to win the game."
Clifford presided over 11 straight wins since Dec. 16, 2015 against the Magic while coaching the Hornets. Charlotte also has won 14 of the last 18 meetings and 10 of its last 12 trips to Orlando.
Updated October 19, 2018