Denton: Hands-On Approach From Vaughn

By John Denton
November 12, 2012

With many of the starters who logged big minutes on Sunday resting in Monday’s practice, the Orlando Magic came up somewhat shorthanded when the first- and second-year players scrimmaged.

That’s when it comes in particularly handy to have a 37-year-old head coach who is just three seasons removed from a 12-year NBA playing career.

Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn got out on the court with the Magic in some team sessions on Tuesday, allowing him to get first-hand knowledge of Jameer Nelson’s progress from a strained groin. With E’Twaun Moore – the starter while Nelson has been out injured – playing at least 40 minutes in the past two games, Vaughn stepped in at point guard, directed the offense and got an up-close view of how Nelson was reacting on the court.

So did Nelson ever foul his head coach?

``Nahhh, I didn’t foul him because I want minutes,’’ Nelson said with a laugh. Nelson and the Magic hope that those minutes come Tuesday night when the Magic (2-4) host the New York Knicks (4-0) at 7 p.m. at the Amway Center. The Knicks are the NBA’s only undefeated team after beating the Heat, Sixers (twice) and Mavericks. Those three teams are a combined 13-7.

Nelson was a part of the Magic’s season-opening defeat of Denver, but he hasn’t played since and Orlando is riding a four-game losing streak. Since starting the season 2-0 and averaging 108.5 points per game, the Magic’s offense has struggled mightily without Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu (broken hand) to the tune of just 77.5 points a night.

Nelson missed the past five games while recovering from a strained hamstring, sore groin and twisted ankle. Nelson said the ankle was never much of an issue and the hamstring healed quickly, but the groin soreness has lingered. He traveled with the Magic to Chicago, Minnesota and Brooklyn, but focused on rehabilitation drills rather than playing at less than 100 percent.

Nelson knows his status for Tuesday’s game will be largely determined by how he feels Tuesday morning after pushing himself hard in Monday’s practice.

``I still have to consult with the team doctor and the training staff. I’m just going to be smart about it,’’ he said. ``I’m a competitor and I want to get out there, but I don’t think me forcing my way out there last week would have been the right decision. But I feel better now.’’

Vaughn felt better about the way the Magic competed on Sunday in Brooklyn following a disappointing home loss to the Nets on Friday. Orlando fell into a 20-point hole in the first quarter on Sunday, but the team showed some tremendous resolve and grit by getting within five points of the lead in the final minute. An inability to get a stop and some offensive inefficiency down the stretch ultimately cost the team the victory – and those are reasons why Vaughn can’t wait to get veterans like Nelson and Turkoglu back on the court as soon as possible.

``On both ends we are missing them. Those are two veterans who have played basketball a long time. It has put added pressure on the other guys,’’ Vaughn said. ``The composure down the stretch that Hedo and Jameer give you (is missing). We are missing them, but at the same time we are growing as a team together and continue to learn.’’

Shooting guard Aaron Afflalo agreed that it’s late in games and late in shot clock situations when the Magic most miss the leadership and direction of a player like Nelson on the floor. Afflalo said when the Magic get back to sharing the ball better and getting it in the right places late in games, the Magic will start winning again. ``The guys who are out there are doing a great job. But there are certain situations at the end of quarters and at the end of games where that experience is definitely going to help,’’ Afflalo said. ``So I’m happy (Nelson is close to returning).’’

Vaughn didn’t want to make too much of his time on the court on Monday, stressing that he was only doing whatever it took to help out the team.

``We were just doing some concepts. Guys had played a lot of minutes, so we needed a few extra bodies,’’ he said. ``I hope the guys know that I want the best for them. We’ll do anything as a staff to make that happen. That’s the message we want.’’

Afflalo said it was inspiring to see his coach willing to mix it up in practice for the good of the squad. ``He could give us a few minutes, for sure,’’ Afflalo joked.

``That’s greatly appreciated. When your players can see how hard your coach is working not only upstairs, but also will get out there and will work with you on the court, it’s nice.’’

Nelson, who played against Vaughn before he retired and went into coaching, said all throughout training camp and during the preseason that the Magic’s rookie mentor would jump into a drill to show how he wanted it run properly.

``He’s got some quick moves. We had our battles back in the day and he can still play the game of basketball. It shows the way he coaches. He likes to get out there and get in drills with us, and that’s something I’m really excited about,’’ Nelson said. ``… You can see that he still has that quickness and competitive nature. He still looks like he could play.’’

The Magic will be even more excited if Nelson can play Tuesday night against the Knicks, the NBA’s second-highest scoring team at 104.5 points per game. Nelson has been increasing his workload for days and he thinks his groin will be sound to play against the Knicks. Nelson said he thinks the Magic are close to breaking their four-game losing streak and he hopes he can help put the team over the hump.

``We all have to stick together and we’re sticking together win or lose. It could be that we’re looking back at this as just Game 6 and we’re laughing at this and knowing this made us better as a team,’’ Nelson said. ``Nobody wants to go through this, but every team goes through losing streaks. We’re hitting adversity right now with some guys out, but we don’t make excuses. We’ve put some other guys in there and we expect them to do their jobs. They’ve been doing a great job.’’

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John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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