Denton: Magic Wrap Up Season Tonight in Miami

By John Denton
April 17, 2013

MIAMI – For the first time in seven seasons, the Orlando Magic aren’t heading to the playoffs, ending the longest such in the Eastern Conference.

But the end of the Magic’s first rebuilding season in almost a decade has taken on somewhat of a playoff-feel what with Orlando facing eight postseason-bound teams over the final nine games.

The Magic (20-61) will wrap up that closing stretch of games and the regular season tonight against Miami Heat (65-16). And even if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh rest and don’t play, there will be plenty the youthful Magic can learn from a Heat team that is the heavy favorite to repeat as NBA champion.

``We’ve played against some of the best teams lately and at times we’ve had struggles, but it’s given some good lessons for us,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic said. ``We’ve faced a lot of these good teams who have played in a lot of big games and we can look at the way they play and learn from that next season.’’

Much of the season has been a learning experience for a Magic roster that is chock full of five rookies and three second-year players. Injuries and unusual circumstances to Jameer Nelson, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu have ripped the roster of much of its experience and cleared the way for major minutes for the likes of Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn, Vucevic and other young players. Playing big minutes and in key spots will help the Magic’s young players be ready for similar scenarios in the future and ultimately make the team better, Harris said.

``For myself, being pushed as a player to continue to grow my game has been really good for me,’’ said Harris, Orlando’s leading scorer since he came over from Milwaukee in a February trade. ``Now, we want to end the season on a good note. We want to bring energy and show that we’re a team getting better and better.’’

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn liked the fact that his team closed the regular season with games against the likes of Miami, San Antonio, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and Milwaukee. Because many of those teams were still jockeying for playoff position, Vaughn knew his young Magic would get the other team’s best shot and the games would feature the intensity of a playoff game. Orlando’s thrilling 113-103 overtime defeat of Milwaukee last week will go down as one of the season’s best moments and a time when the Magic met the intensity of a playoff-bound team.

``We talked about going down the stretch that the games that we were going to be in were against teams who were jockeying for playoff position and they were going to come in with the mindset of getting wins,’’ Vaughn said. ``So we got their best, and we saw it the last two games as Boston and Chicago were playing for something. They were aggressive and hitting first and that’s something that we can learn from.’’

Vaughn said that even though the Magic have little to play for tonight against the Heat, his team will take a simplistic approach toward simply trying to show improvement. That’s been a theme coursing through this season as the Magic have used games for young players to develop and makes strides. The same will be true tonight against the Heat – regardless what Miami players are in uniform.

``We just want to play well and be better than we were the last time that we stepped on the floor,’’ Vaughn said. ``We want some progress, that simple. We want to build on what we’re doing. Our goal since Day One was to get better every day. We have the fortunate opportunity to play the game of basketball today and we need to take advantage of it and go out and play.’’

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