Denton: Magic Learning More About Themselves This Week

By John Denton
November 28, 2012

ORLANDO – With an overtime loss to Boston still fresh in their memories, a showdown tonight against San Antonio ahead and games still looming against Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic expect to emerge from this stretch against elite teams knowing more about the mettle of their squad.

The Magic played one their best games of the season on Sunday, leading Boston by seven points midway through the fourth quarter. The Magic ultimately fell 116-110 in overtime, but head coach Jacque Vaughn liked the fight and competitiveness that Orlando showed in the defeat.

Things don’t get any easier tonight as the Magic (5-8) face the Spurs (12-3) at 7 p.m. at the Amway Center. San Antonio shredded the winless Washington Wizards on Monday and are riding a four-game winning streak.

Facing the Celtics, Spurs, Nets and Lakers is arguably the Magic’s toughest stretch of the season. But some Magic players, such as J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson, like the stiff tests that the team is getting now.

``It’s a good stretch for us this time of year,’’ Redick said. ``You can look at it two ways. If we had an easy schedule right now maybe we could build some confidence, but I think you can get confidence from playing against great teams. There are always measuring sticks when you play teams like the Spurs to find out where you are.’’

Added Nelson: ``You always want to test yourself, put yourself out there and see how good you are because when you go against the elite teams it tells you a lot about yourself. We learned a lot about ourselves the other night against Boston and how hard we can play. As long as we stay together and compete we can give ourselves a chance to win at the end.’’

The Magic got a welcomed sight on Wednesday when injured forward Al Harrington got out onto the court for some light shooting drills. Harrington, acquired in August from Denver, hasn’t played this season after having offseason knee surgery and a staph infection that required three more procedures. Harrington, a 14-year veteran, is expected to steadily increase his workouts and could return by mid-December.

``It will be more welcomed when that jersey is on and they introduce him. But I’ll take him heading in the right direction,’’ Vaughn said. ``Indeed, it’s a sign of progress and a positive thing going forward.’’

Nelson and Redick have played especially well of late for the Magic and they will have their work cut out for them against San Antonio point guard Tony Parker and Spurs’ shooting guard Manu Ginobili. Nelson had 22 points last Friday against Cleveland and 20 on Sunday against Boston, riding strong third-quarter performances both times. Redick scored a team-high 21 points with three 3-pointers on Sunday and had 18 points on Sunday versus the Cavaliers.

Nelson feels that Vaughn’s experience with the Spurs could be an advantage for the Magic tonight. Vaughn spent his final three years as a player as a reserve point guard for the Spurs and he was an assistant coach in San Antonio the last two years.

``It helps a lot. We run some of the same sets, but what it boils down to is playing harder and keeping our intensity level high for 48 minutes and executing offensively,’’ Nelson said. ``You are not going to shut that team down because they have been great for years, they have a great system and great players. We just have to rely on our principles and play as hard as we can.’’

Vaughn said there is no doubt in his mind that despite the Magic’s 5-8 record the team has made improvement since the start of the team. He was impressed with the performance against Boston and expects to see another fiery effort tonight against the Spurs.

``The Boston game showed us the improvement that we’ve made and some of the things that we still need to work on,’’ Vaughn said. ``But from the first day that we got together as a team (to now) we’re a better team. These games will help us get better.’’

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