Denton: Heat Head Coach Admirer of Magic's Rebuild Model and Young Talent

Orlando Magic

By John Denton
Jan. 4, 2014

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic have matched up exceptionally well with the Miami Heat over the past two seasons, pushing the two-time defending champions to either overtime or the final seconds on three different occasions.

And just in case his team had forgotten about the firepower and potential of the Magic, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra reminded his squad again on Saturday morning. Spoelstra is as successful a coach as there is in the NBA, but he has long been an admirer of the rebuilding Magic and the talent that they are collecting with young players Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless.

``They play with the youth and athleticism that they have on that roster and they don’t let you play at your pace. They aren’t going to let you off the hook and they play hard,’’ Spoelstra said of the Magic. ``They cut hard and they push it hard. They will do things with multiple efforts, so we’ll have to bring it. You also notice a fine collection of young talent and when you have young talent like that in this league, we don’t want to leave it up to chance. Sometimes young talent is clicking on the same night and we don’t want that to happen tonight.’’

Injuries could play a major role in the 7 p.m. game between the host Magic (10-22) and the Heat (24-8). Vucevic, who averaged 21.7 points and 21 rebounds against the Heat last season, is questionable because of a sprained left ankle. Meanwhile, Miami likely will be without superstar guard Dwyane Wade (sore knee) and Shane Battier (quad bruise). Neither worked with the Heat in their shoot-around practice and will reevaluated before tonight’s game.

Vucevic missed most of Tuesday’s game against Golden State and all of Thursday’s loss in Cleveland because of a sprained left ankle. He said on Thursday morning that the injury wasn’t as serious as first thought and he initially hoped to play later that night against the Cavaliers. Vucevic was held out on Thursday, but is hoping that he can play tonight. He didn’t do much in the team’s morning practice and he will also be a game-time decision.

``We didn’t have him walk through anything and he kind of stood on the side and saw the strategy for tonight,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``He’ll still be a game-time decision and we’ll see if he’s able to go for us.’’

Orlando is 0-5 this season when Vucevic has missed time with sprained ankles and they lost badly on Tuesday in a game that the standout center exited in the first quarter with the sprained ankle.

``You have to be prepared both ways – if he’s able to go how we will prepare things and if he’s not able to go,’’ Vaughn said. ``So we had a little longer shoot around to get two groups in there to see things differently.’’

Vucevic dominated in the three games that he played against the Heat last season, registering at least 20 rebounds in every game. One of those performances included a 29-rebound effort that allowed Vucevic to break Shaquille O’Neal’s nearly 20-year-old franchise record of 28 rebounds in a game. He almost single-handedly kept the Magic in games against the Heat last season, be it with tip-ins, offensive boards to keep possessions alive and also controlling the defensive glass.

Whereas last season Miami primarily used power forward Chris Bosh to check Vucevic, it has played center Chris Anderson more this season to keep the Magic center away from the rim and off the glass. In two games against the Heat this season, Vucevic is averaging just 8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds and he’s failed to break double-digits in rebounds.

Orlando was tied 99-all with the Heat on Nov. 23 in Miami before superstar forward LeBron James hit a go-ahead jumper. Orlando had two shots at tying the game, but Arron Afflalo couldn’t convert a drive in the lane and Oladipo came up short on a put-back try at the buzzer. It proved to be another heart-breaking loss for the Magic, who are hoping to finally get over the hump against the Heat.