Denton: Magic Set For Rematch with Heat

Victor Oladipo

By John Denton
Nov. 22, 2013

ORLANDO – Looking on the schedule and seeing a pending game with the two-time champion Miami Heat is usually something that causes NBA teams to shudder. But for the Orlando Magic, there’s no team that they would rather play right now than the hated Heat.

Still steaming about their game against the Heat two nights ago when they stumbled to a 16-0 start and came unglued in a lopsided second half, the Magic are eager to test themselves once again against the Heat.

They fully understand the greatness of four-time MVP LeBron James and the dynastic run that the Heat have going again this season, but the Magic still want Miami as their next opponent to try and prove that they can compete with one of the NBA’s best teams. Trying to bounce back from a 120-92 loss against Miami appeals to Orlando’s pride and the competitiveness of its players.

``We’re excited about playing them, especially because of the way that we played a couple of days ago and losing by a big margin. We weren’t really happy about that,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic said. ``We don’t like the way that we played or the way that we competed (on Wednesday), so we want to go out there with a better effort and try to get a win this time.’’

As if facing the Heat (9-3) in Miami wasn’t difficult enough, the Magic (4-7) will be beginning one of their toughest stretches of the season with Saturday night’s game. It is the start of a span of four games in five nights and five games in seven nights with two sets of back-to-back games.

After playing Miami on Saturday, Orlando will fly home to face Phoenix on Sunday at the Amway Center. The team then will fly to Atlanta on Monday and face the Hawks on Tuesday. They then come back to Orlando for home games against Philadelphia (Wednesday) and San Antonio (Friday) sandwiched around Thanksgiving. Two days later, the squad leaves for a six-game road trip that will span parts of 12 days.

``It’s always tough physically, especially if you take some nicks and bruises because you don’t really get the recovery time,’’ Magic standout guard Arron Afflalo said of playing a daunting stretch of games. ``Mentally it’s just about preparing yourself to play. There is enough time during the day to rest to get mentally ready, but to me the physical part of it is the toughest part.’’

Afflalo was one of Orlando’s lone bright spots on Wednesday by scoring 30 points and making seven of nine 3-point shots against the Heat. After scoring 36 points against the Bucks, 25 versus the Mavericks and another 30 against the Heat, the 91 points scored is the best three-game stretch of Afflalo’s career, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Prior to this season, Afflalo had never scored more than 76 points over a three-game stretch.

Afflalo is averaging career-bests in points (22.5 percent), rebounds (4.7 rpg.) and assists (4.5 apg.). He ranks third in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (54.1) and third in 3-point makes (33). His 247 points scored so far are easily the best 11-game start to his career, bettering the 165 scored last season through 11 games and the 136 scored to begin the 2010 season in Denver.

``I just think overall he’s in a good place right now on both ends of the floor,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``He’s shooting the ball well for us and he’s being good at knowing where his shots are going to come from, he’s playing within our system and he’s keeping things real simple.’’

Prized Magic rookie Victor Oladipo got the first start of his professional career on Wednesday in Miami. He played well late in the game and scored 20 points, but he also had eight turnovers. He should be used extensively on Saturday night against a Miami team that prefers to keep three guards on the floor to space the offense around James.

Like Vucevic, Oladipo said he is looking forward to playing Miami again on Saturday so that the Magic can attempt to erase the bitter memory from Wednesday’s performance. Having just faced the Heat, Oladipo said he will be better prepared now for the ball pressure and physicality that the Heat bring to games.

``It’s good to play them again and we know what to expect now,’’ Oladipo said. ``We know how they are going to play us and what it will look like. For me, I know that helps a lot. We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, change some things and apply it to the next game against them.’’

Oladipo opened his pro career with a back-to-back set of games in Indiana and Minnesota and he’s since played one other back-to-back. This, however, will be the first time he’s played four games in five nights and five games in seven nights.

Veterans have warned him about the grind of the schedule and Oladipo said he’s tried to prepare himself for the string of games ahead.

``I just know that I need to get my rest, take care of my body and take care of my mind,’’ said Oladipo, who is averaging 12.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 11 games so far. ``If I do all of that, I think I’ll be alright during this stretch of games.’’

James scored 21 points against the Magic on Wednesday, but he also got the Magic into foul trouble by getting to the free throw line 11 times. And when the Magic did trap him, he passed out for seven assists, many of which to wide-open shooters.

Miami made 15 of 24 (62.5 percent) 3-point shots versus the Magic.

``He’s really tough and the main thing he does is he picks apart your defense,’’ said Magic small forward Maurice Harkless, whose job it is to guard James. ``He gets everybody else open shots. The best part of his game is he makes everybody else better. … His IQ is out of this world. That’s what I realized the most about him is that his IQ is so high. It’s ridiculous.’’

Vaughn knows that his Magic are about to enter the toughest portion of the schedule, starting with Saturday night’s game in South Florida. Vaughn has said repeatedly that the success of this season will be measured by the growth of the Magic’s young players, and he’s hoping to see a new level of maturity from the squad in the coming weeks.

``The great teams — the teams that compete for championships — they do it,’’ Vaughn said of playing well through difficult stretches of the schedule. ``They find a way to muster the mental energy and fortitude to do it. They call on guys on the bench to be a part of that, but there’s a lot of demand individually on doing your job. It’s tough to do, but in order to be good, you’ve got to do it.’’





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