Denton: Magic Trying to Disregard Highs and Lows
By John Denton
November 29, 2012
ORLANDO – Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has said repeatedly already that one of his missions this season is to somehow ignore the highs and lows that a young team will invariably go through and stay the same person.
That means even after a loss, when Vaughn greets a player outside the locker room he makes sure he asks about their day, cracks a joke or checks in on the status of their family. In Vaughn’s eye, culture and consistency are sometimes just as important as wins and losses in his foundation-building first season in Orlando.
Vaughn’s ability stay consistent, while also working hard to pick up the spirits of the Magic (5-9) following Sunday’s overtime loss to Boston and Wednesday’s disappointing effort against San Antonio was put to the test before Thursday’s practice.
In the team’s usual pre-practice gathering, Vaughn saw a team with wavering confidence and in need of a pick-me-up. According the Magic guard J.J. Redick, the Magic discussed players having more well-defined roles and the need to play with more effort. But for Vaughn, the man charged with stabilizing the squad, his goal was to restore the team’s confidence before Friday’s home game against the Brooklyn Nets (10-4) at the Amway Center.
``It’s amazing that guys at this level have been playing basketball for a long time and succeeding for a long time, but they still need to be guided, and loved and there’s nothing wrong with that,’’ Vaughn said. ``They still need their confidence built and sustained and you continue to learn about each individual on your team and who needs what and when they need it. For me, that’s the process that these early games has provided for me.’’
The Magic are trying to pick up the pieces following a 110-89 loss to the veteran-laden Spurs. Orlando, which has four second-half comebacks for wins this season, trailed by as much as 25 points and uncharacteristically never could string together a run in the second half. Redick said the team was doing a lot of soul-searching following a loss that he dubbed as ``unacceptable.’’
``The goal is to get better every day and we took a step back and that’s just unacceptable because we can’t have steps back,’’ Redick said. ``For me, it starts with personal accountability. When you lose a game and you played poor you wonder, `What could I have done better?’
``We want to win and that’s the goal. But a subsidiary goal is to do it the right way regardless of the outcome because you can’t always control the results,’’ Redick continued. ``You can control your approach and your effort. That was a part of what was addressed in our meeting today – taking care of what you can control.’’
Vaughn said he is well aware that players often respond differently to various kinds of coaching. Some require yelling and harsh words, while others need to be reassured. In addition to meeting with the team as a whole on a daily basis, Vaughn often arranges individual sessions with players because of the broad range of experience on the squad.
While the Magic are composed of veterans such as Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Redick, there are also seven first- or second-year players on the team. Vaughn, 37, might be in his first year as a head coach, but he knows that he must deal with the two polar opposites in terms of experience differently.
``I talk to them individually man-to-man because they are all in different situations. Whether it’s a guy playing or not playing, your approach is different, but you still try to keep them a part of what’s going on,’’ Vaughn said. ``(Rookie forward DeQuan Jones) hadn’t played in a few games and I’m proud to say that I had spoken to him every morning, joked with him and talked to him. I still asked how his Thanksgiving was, and the next thing you know he’s in the game (on Wednesday versus the Spurs). For me, that’s what it’s all about.’’
One of Vaughn’s pet projects these days is center Nikola Vucevic, who started the season off with five double-doubles in the first eight games, but has slumped of late. The 22-year-old center had just six points and three boards against Boston’s Kevin Garnett on Sunday and only two points and five rebounds on Wednesday versus San Antonio’s Tim Duncan.
Vucevic, a second-year pro, stressed that he has to play with confidence even if he’s going against a Hall of Fame-bound player. He’ll catch a break on Friday as New Jersey standout center Brook Lopez won’t play because of a recurring foot injury, but he vowed that he must have a more aggressive mindset coming into the game.
``It only makes me better going against these guys who are all great centers,’’ said Vucevic, who is averaging 9.3 points and 8.1 rebounds a game. ``Lately, offensively I haven’t been as good as I was at the start of the season. I just have to keep working on my shooting touch and be confident. Defensively I’ve been doing OK, but offensively it’s about catching the ball inside and going up and dunking it.’’
That’s the kind of confident and aggressive nature that Vaughn wants to see from his team, especially considering the way that the Magic have struggled to get to the free throw line so far this season. The Magic have taken 60 fewer free throws than their opponents and are averaging a NBA-low 16.7 attempts a game.
Twice already, Orlando has been through games where no starter has attempted a free throw. One such occasion was Wednesday when Orlando was just five of eight from the stripe. After eight years of watching former center Dwight Howard attempt thousands of free throws, the Magic simply have a different style that isn’t so post oriented.
``We need some early attack. Arron is really good at getting early attack, transition and getting buckets. We just missed shots at the beginning of the game (and never got inside later),’’ Vaughn said. ``There’s no secret we’re not throwing the ball into the post 20 times, so sometimes the game is producing those 19-foot shots. Now, can we be more aggressive at times, maybe get a kick-out pass and try to drive it? Yeah, we can do that.’’
Redick said the Magic have already proven themselves to be a resilient squad and he thinks that Thursday’s emotional lift and crisp practice will help them bounce back by Friday night. Orlando is already 0-2 against Brooklyn and facing a Nets team that’s won four in a row for a third time in a month. Redick predicted that the Magic high level of character in the locker room will result in the team coming back with a significantly better effort on Friday against the Nets.
``You take into account what your effort level was (on Wednesday against the Spurs) and when it’s not up to par, then you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself what you could have done better,’’ the veteran shooting guard said. ``I did that yesterday and again this morning – I don’t know if I literally looked in the mirror – but I did do some of that.’’
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