Denton: Magic Have Best Chance of Getting No. 1 Draft Pick

By John Denton
April 17, 2013

MIAMI – The Orlando Magic closed the regular season on Wednesday night with a loss to the rival Miami Heat that might ultimately make them big winners next month in the NBA Draft lottery.

With the Charlotte Bobcats inexplicably winning a second consecutive game to close their season, the Magic didn’t necessarily mind falling 105-93 on Wednesday to the LeBron James-less Heat – a loss that gave them the NBA’s worst record and the best odds at winning the top pick in the June 27th NBA Draft.

Orlando (20-62) gave a spirited effort throughout on Wednesday and once again pushed the Heat (66-16) to the brink. But ultimately some poor free throw shooting (11 of 25) and an inability to slow Miami’s gaggle of elite perimeter shooters (12 of 29 on 3-pointers) undermined the opportunity to beat the Heat.

Magic center Nikola Vucevic registered his 46th double-double of his breakout season in Orlando with 20 points and 13 rebounds. And Tobias Harris chipped in 19 points and eight rebounds for a Magic team that made 51.9 percent of its shots. Miami stroked 12 3-pointers and shot 53.8 percent from the floor.

``It’s been a learning season for a lot of us because we’re all young guys in their first or second season in the NBA, so it was a good learning season,’’ Vucevic said. ``It’s wasn’t easy because we had a lot of losses and it wasn’t always fun, but I think we can take a lot from this season.’’

Added Harris: ``We’re a young team so next (season) pretty much already started as this game ended. Not that we’re already looking forward to next year because we’ve gone out and given 100 percent in every game. That’s hard to find in teams that aren’t going to the playoffs. We’re just building on everything to be a better team in the future.’’

But the statistics that mattered the most on this night was Charlotte (21-61) beating Cleveland and the Magic losing to firm up the lottery odds. Because the Magic have the NBA’s worst record, they will now have the greatest odds at winning the top pick in the June 27 NBA Draft.

The draft order will be determined on May 21 in the NBA’s lottery system. The Magic will have 250 combinations in the draft lottery or a 25 percent shot at getting the top overall selection. They have a 21.5 percent shot at the No. 2 pick, a 17.8 percent shot at No. 3 and 35.7 percent odds at the No. 4 slot. Because they have the NBA’s worst record, the Magic can fall no lower than the fourth pick in the draft.

Magic first-year coach Jacque Vaughn said he never thought once about his franchise ending up with the best odds at winning the top overall draft pick. Vaughn said he thanked his team for playing hard to the end of the season and improving along the win. In time, he said, his focus will shift to the NBA Draft, but Wednesday night in the minutes after the finale it was not that time.

``It never really entered my thought as a coach. For me, it’s game-to-game and getting guys ready to play,’’ Vaughn said. ``That (draft pick analysis) is a question better suited for (Magic GM) Rob (Hennigan) and his crew. For us, our approach was getting better and letting the results lie where they may. That was the goal for us this year.’’

Since the introduction of the draft lottery in 1990, only three teams with the worst record have gotten the No. 1 overall pick, including the Magic in 2004. The Bobcats, owners of the worst winning percentage in NBA history last season, fell to the No. 2 pick in last June’s NBA Draft and selected forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist instead of Anthony Davis. The shot-blocking center ended up with the New Orleans Hornets.

The team with the second-best odds has won the rights to the top overall spot five times. Seven of the top picks in the past 23 years have never made an all-star team, showing the often hit-or-miss nature of the NBA Draft.

Miami was without James, the likely league Most Valuable Player, on Wednesday night because of personal reasons. James is expected to be back in action this weekend when the top-seeded Heat face the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. Heat star Dwyane Wade played 24 minutes and scored 21 points. He made nine of 15 shots, but missed five of his eight free throw attempts. All-star power forward Chris Bosh had the night off and did not play. Former Magic player Mike Miller had 21 points and six 3-pointers for the Heat.

Vaughn said despite the rocky results, he was proud of the way that his squad took seriously the goal of making strides on a daily basis.

``For a lot of these guys it’s their first 82 (games) and I congratulated them on that,’’ Vaughn said. ``The season is about highs and lows and I’m going to continue to preach being consistent because that’s what this league is about.

``We’ll get better, we’ll grow together and we’ll keep pushing each other,’’ Vaughn continued. ``I’m proud that I’m their coach and I’m thankful that they allow me to coach them. So it was a good year in a lot of ways for us.’’

Orlando made a spirited run in the third quarter, twice getting within two points of the lead and once getting the score to 61-60 on a short jumper by Beno Udrih. But consecutive 3-pointers by Ray Allen and Mike Miller and another by Allen late in the third period gave Miami a n 85-74 lead heading in the fourth quarter.

Orlando played especially well and with great energy in the first half, and stayed within 55-47 of the Wade-led Heat. The Magic likely could have had the lead at intermission had they only shot the ball better from the free throw line. Orlando made just five of 13 tries in the first half from the stripe with four players missing free throws.

Harris, the Magic’s primary acquisition in the trade with Milwaukee that involved J.J. Redick, played well throughout the game. He capped his first season with the Magic by averaging 17.3 points in 27 games since arriving from Milwaukee.

``It’s been a long and exciting year for me. I’m in Orlando and I’ve been given an opportunity to play my game and it’s a great feeling,’’ said Harris, who had two 30-point games and nine 20-point games with the Magic. ``I’m thankful for being here and thankful for this (Magic) organization and all the fans and support that I’ve had. I just look to grow on it and come back next year more ready. We’ll be more mature as a team and make some things happen.’’

Orlando shot a dazzling 57.1 percent in the first half, making 20 of their first 35 shots. That was close to the season-best 62 percent that the Magic hit in the first half of the Dec. 26 home game against the New Orleans Hornets. But the free throw problems and an inability to slow down Wade (17 first-half points) kept the Heat in the lead.

As has been the case in each of the three times he’s faced the Heat, Vucevic was dominant for long stretches of the game with his work on the boards and his growing offensive game. He made six of seven shots in the first half by drilling several jumpers and converting two nifty hook shots over Udonis Haslem. He had 13 points and seven rebounds in the first 24 minutes.

``For me personally it was a good year. I got better and I just wish that I was able to help the team win more games. That’s more important than playing for myself,’’ Vucevic said. ``But I am happy to have my confidence back and play at a pretty high level consistently. Now, I’ve just got to get better over the summer and be ready to come back and help this team get more wins.’’

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