Denton: Maintaining Leads Area of Focus

By John Denton
March 13, 2014

ORLANDO – On an Orlando Magic team filled with so much youth and inexperience, practically every scenario of every game can qualify as a teachable moment for head coach Jacque Vaughn.

Of issue of late after the Magic squandered 18 and 13-point leads in losses to Milwaukee and Denver: Learning how to play with double-digit leads and maintain them throughout games. The positive of that, of course, is that the Magic are at least starting games well enough to build significant advantages on foes. Now, the Magic’s mission is figuring out how to hold those leads once they jump out ahead.

``It’s amazing the evolution of things because I don’t know how long ago it was with us talking about how we’d start off (games) slow and couldn’t get leads,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said with a chuckle. ``Part of it now is that we need to commend our group and be positive that we’re ready to play – which I think is evolution. We’re putting ourselves in position to be competitive in the game at the beginning. That’s where the growth will continue to happen.

``Unfortunately, it won’t happen overnight and through this process you have to go through some ups and downs,’’ Vaughn continued. ``You’ve got to hurt a little bit and that’s just part of it. You hope that the hurt puts you in a position to learn from it.’’

The much-improved Washington Wizards, which play in Orlando on Friday, have inflicted some pain on the Magic this season with two lopsided victories. The Wizards (33-31), led by all-star point guard John Wall and former Magic players Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza, beat Orlando 115-106 on Feb. 25 and 98-80 on Dec. 2.

Vaughn has no choice but to remain positive even though his Magic (19-47) have lost four games in a row. There have been stretches in each of those games that the Magic can point to as major positive moments – being up by 14 points in the first half on the surging Houston Rockets; staying with the powerful San Antonio Spurs stride for stride for three quarters; racing to a 31-13 start in Milwaukee on Monday; and springing to a 40-27 lead on the Nuggets on Wednesday at the Amway Center.

Ever the optimist, Vaughn likes that his team came into each of those games focused and ready on the task at hand. A Magic team that has eight players younger than 25 years old still has trouble handling the major momentum shifts in games. But Vaughn would prefer to focus on the positives of his team being versed to the scouting report and jumping on foes for big leads.

``That (positivity) hasn’t changed and it won’t change,’’ Vaughn said. ``I’ve always felt that’s how you get the best out of people. You can be positive and be demanding. You can be positive and be respectful. You can be positive and get the best out of people. I always feel those things work hand in hand.’’

The Magic looked to be well on their way to snapping their losing streak on Wednesday following a strong start against Denver. Center Nikola Vucevic had 12 of Orlando’s first 23 points by dominating inside, and Orlando led 40-27 when reserve Doron Lamb drilled a straight-on 3-pointer midway through the second period.

But the game turned around when Denver started making shots and the Magic went through a spate of turnovers. The Nuggets outscored the Magic 25-10 over the rest of the first half, including seven quick points in the final minute, to totally flip the game around.

The momentum change just before the half seemed to break the will of the Magic. They surrendered a whopping 68 points in the second half and 120 points in the game for another loss. Vucevic, who had 20 points and 16 rebounds on Wednesday and is averaging 14.3 points and 11.1 rebounds a game this season, admitted that the losing wears on players at times, but he still thinks that the Magic have a bright future once they finally shed their growing pains.

``It’s not fun to lose and I’m sure every guy on this team as competitors don’t want to lose,’’ Vucevic said. ``It’s been a process for us, but we can’t accept this as OK. It’s just kind of the process for us to get where we want to be as a winning team and a playoff team. We’re going in that direction, but we’ve got to keep things together. The only way we’re going to turn this thing around is by keeping working.’’

Vaughn said there will come a time when the Magic learn how to keep their proverbial feet on the pedal when they start pulling away from teams and they will take their large leads and build upon them. For now, however, the Magic must learn how to play with the same intensity throughout regardless of the score, Vaughn added.

``We actually talked about it in the huddle about being able to learn from situations like in Milwaukee (on Monday) and being able to play that possession and respond to the moment that you are in right now,’’ Vaughn said. ``We’ll continue to get better at that and we’ll continue to be in situations like that where we are up 10, 18 or 20 in the first or second, and we’ll be able to respond and keep that lead throughout.’’