Denton: Davis Impressive in Return, Still Playing Physical

By John Denton
January 15, 2013

ORLANDO – Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis has played one way his whole career – much like a big bull stumbling around a china shop – so he knew when he returned to action Monday night following a three-plus-week layoff he couldn’t hold back or shy away from contact.

So just 74 seconds after entering Monday’s game in Washington there was Davis, eagerly standing in front of the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Kevin Seraphin and drawing a charge that put him on the floor. And later in the third quarter, when Seraphin whacked Davis across the arms hard enough to pull his healing left shoulder behind his head, the Magic’s gritty power forward didn’t dare rub it or show any sign of being injured.

In Davis’ mind, Monday’s return after missing three-plus weeks and 11 games with a dislocated shoulder was more about playing his usual brand of hard-nosed basketball than anything else. After all, his hard-charging, floor-pounding style is what has made him a success this season and a NBA force the past six seasons.

``I can’t change and playing hard is the only way that I can afford to play out there,’’ said Davis, who had a large icepack strapped to shoulder following Monday’s loss in Washington. ``I’ve just got to take it one day at a time and think without thinking.’’

After clearing Monday’s hurdle and playing exceptionally well in his 17 minutes on the floor, Davis’ role is expected to grow on Wednesday night when the Magic host the Indiana Pacers at the Amway Center. It will be Orlando’s first game at home following a nine-day road trip that saw them play games on both the West and East coasts.

When Davis went down clutching his shoulder on Dec. 19 the Magic were riding a four-game winning streak and within one win of a .500 record. But without their emotional leader and grittiest defender in the middle, the Magic struggled and lost the next 10 games.

Orlando snapped that unsightly skid on Saturday in Los Angeles with an impressive defeat of the Clippers. And the team hoped that Monday’s return of Davis and reserve point guard E’Twaun Moore (sprained left elbow) would give the road-weary team a jolt of energy.

That wasn’t the case, but it was of no fault of Davis, who drilled six of eight shots and scored 13 points in short, controlled bursts of playing time. The big man scored on a tough post up in the lane, twice drove to the rim, confidently stroked jump shots and withstood a couple of hard hits by Seraphin.

Now, Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn is ready to give Davis more minutes and more reign in hopes that he can help turn around an Orlando defense that was ranked in the NBA’s top 10 before the rugged power forward was injured.

``Well, you know me, I’m going to be cautious with it, but at the same time, he kind of showed me that he’s ready to take on some more minutes,’’ said Vaughn, who used Davis off the bench on Monday but could conceivably start him on Wednesday. ``We’ll see how he feels (Monday night) and (Tuesday).’’

Wednesday’s game will be the first against Indiana since last spring when the Magic were beaten in the first round of the playoffs by the Pacers. In large part behind the play of Davis, the Magic stunned the heavily favored Pacers in Game 1 of that series.

Indiana proceeded to win the next four games and the series, but the stretch of hard-fought games was an awakening of sorts for Davis.

After signing a free-agent deal with the Magic in December of 2011, Davis struggled most of last season while playing behind former Orlando power forward Ryan Anderson. But injuries allowed Davis more playing time down the stretch and put him in a primary position in the playoffs.

Despite giving away some six inches in height to Indiana center Roy Hibbert, Davis still averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds in the playoffs against the Pacers. In that series, he had impressive double-doubles in Games 1, 2 and 4 and poured in 22 points in Game 3.

That performance set the stage for this season when Davis was named team captain and played like a leader early in the year. He opened the season with 29 points in a win against Denver, and weeks later, he had a 14-rebound effort versus Detroit.

Despite missing three weeks with the injury, Davis has enjoyed the finest season of his six-year career while averaging 15.9 points and 7.7 rebounds (both career highs).

The shoulder injury – which happened when Washington’s Emeka Okafor chopped him across the arms and jarred his shoulder late in the game on Dec. 19 – knocked him for a mental loop. He ached to be back with his teammates, and admitted that he struggled watching games on television and would instead drive around in his car while listening on the radio.

Getting through Monday’s first game was a major accomplishment, Davis said. He stressed that he was determined to play the game the same way he always has – with a reckless abandon with little fear of injury.

``It’s always good to get confidence especially when you come off an injury,’’ Davis said. ``I told myself that there was no need to go out there and hold your shoulder or nurture it out there. I’m out here to play and not to play with just one hand.’’

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