Denton: Closing Stretch Important for Magic

By John Denton
April 5, 2013

CHICAGO – For the Orlando Magic players with no contractual guarantees beyond this season, the final six games of the regular season are a job interview of sorts.

One such player, rookie guard DeQuan Jones, knows that his NBA future could be riding on how he finishes the season and the lasting impression that he leaves with the Magic.

``For me, it’s an all-out sprint, going out and giving 110 percent and enduring and doing whatever coaches ask me to do to win, whether that’s rebounding, defending or putting pressure on the rim,’’ Jones said. ``You are only as good as your last game, or in this case, your last few games. So I want to leave an imprint on the league, our fans and give everyone a glimpse of what they have to look forward to next season from me.’’

Orlando’s all-important closing stretch kicks off tonight when the Magic face the Bulls at 8 p.m. ET at the United Center. The Bulls won a tight game a night earlier in Brooklyn and were down several injured players, and they hope to get Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli back in time for tonight’s game.

``They play a very physical game. (Thursday) night they were down in the first quarter and they just keep plugging away, and that’s the sign of a well-coached team,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said of the Bulls and coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Magic’s youth movement is in full swing what with five rookies and three second-year players seeing the bulk of the minutes down the stretch. Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson (right ankle sprain) won’t play again tonight, giving Orlando more of a chance to see rookie point guard Doron Lamb play.

Vaughn said that while he’s reminded his players that they are being evaluated every game he doesn’t want them playing tight or feeling they have to prove something every minute that they are out on the court. Vaughn is a big proponent of players staying within their roles and not trying to do more than being asked of them. That message has been a constant going down the stretch.

``I haven’t (put pressure on players) because a lot of times for me I love to take a step back and look. I think over time people show their true selves,’’ Vaughn said. ``I’ll put guys in a position on the floor to make plays and let’s see what happens. But there’s no added pressure, Whether you feel like you need to step up your game or do added things, that’s up to you. I find out over the season how you responded to that and how you addressed the problems.’’

Magic rookie center Kyle O’Quinn, who will likely see playing time tonight at both center and power forward, said he’s well aware that the team is being evaluated every game. O’Quinn, who has seen his playing time increase of late because of his growth as a post defender, said it’s important to play with confidence now and not make the same mistakes that rookies often make early in the season.

``Going forward, like coach (Vaughn) always says, you want to be playing your best basketball toward the end. You work hard all season and at the end of the season you want to be able to say that you made steps to be a better basketball player,’’ O’Quinn said. ``So your later games, you want to limit those mistakes that you made when you were a rookie. Because next year you won’t be a rookie and more will be expected of you.’’

MORE STORIES: Jones Progressing at Fast Rate | Hennigan Made Right Decision on Bynum | Nelson Appreciated by Fans

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