Denton: Much Learned From West Coast Trip


By John Denton
December 11, 2012

ORLANDO – While the Orlando Magic’s most recent road trip will be remembered for a defeat of Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers that sent shock waves all the way back to Central Florida and an impressive 3-2 record, it was a lesson learned in a defeat that might actually prove to be the most long lasting.

Down 13 points just seconds into the fourth quarter last Wednesday in Utah, some members of the Magic feared for the worst. Orlando had seen this scenario play out before this season and usually the results only got worse in the form of blowout losses.

But then something both surprising and encouraging happened. Nikola Vucevic snatched a rebound and finished the rim and Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis converted a tough layup in traffic. J.J. Redick knocked down a couple of free throws, Davis buried a jump shot, Jameer Nelson sank a floater in the lane and when Davis finished off a difficult drive-and-foul play with a free throw, the Magic suddenly had life again.

Seconds later, Orlando had the lead, rallying all the way from the 13 points down to take a 79-78 advantage on a Davis dunk off a brilliant feed from Redick. The Magic eventually went cold and ultimately lost the game down the stretch, but the earlier rally proved that there is still plenty of fight in this Magic team.

That fight allowed Orlando to break open a close game in the fourth quarter against Phoenix on Sunday and finish off the road trip just the way it started it nine days earlier. By beating L.A., Golden State and Phoenix, the Magic finished 3-2 on their longest trip of the season and it gave them a rallying cry in the weeks to come.

``I think we made a little bit of a switch in that Utah game (on Wednesday). That was a game where we typically get blown out in after getting down 13 points and would have folded,’’ Redick remembered. ``There were two games against Brooklyn where we folded and a couple more against San Antonio and Atlanta where we folded. So that’s a step forward for us. We were in a position to win that (Utah) game, in a position to win the Sacramento game (on Friday) and (on Sunday night) we were able to pull it off.’’

The Magic (8-12) hope the carryover effect from their success on the West Coast is more victories at home in the coming days. Four of the next five games are at the Amway Center, starting with Wednesday night’s showdown against the surprising Atlanta Hawks (12-6). The Magic then have a Friday rematch against a Golden State team that it whipped last week in Oakland. After a Saturday road game in Charlotte, the Magic hope to fatten up on lesser teams in Minnesota and Washington. Now, is the time to capitalize on the lessons learned on the West Coast and make a run, Davis stressed.

``We are a young team that is learning through experience, from the rookies to the coaches,’’ Davis said. ```Together’ – it’s what we say every day in the huddle. We’re starting to live it every single day now, and being on the road brings it together even more, because now you're in a building with 20,000 other people, and they’re against you. That mentality has to spread, not only away, but at home.’’

The nine-day, five-game trip also revealed to the Magic that rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson is ready for a much bigger role in the team’s offense. He set career highs in the win in Phoenix by scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Most telling was a scenario where the Magic’s lead had been trimmed to five points and only five seconds remained on the shot clock late in the game. Head coach Jacque Vaughn diagrammed a play for Nicholson, who rubbed off a Redick screen and drilled a 15-foot jumper that sealed the victory.

In the four games he appeared in on the road trip, Nicholson averaged 10.8 points per game while shooting 61.3 percent. Among the Magic’s regulars in the rotation, Nicholson’s plus-10 plus/minus ratio is the highest of the group.

``I’m just going out there and playing hard and they are trusting in me,’’ Nicholson said, referring to the team’s growing confidence in him. ``I’ve always just played at my own pace on the block and I’m just going to keep doing what I do.’’

The Magic want to continue to do what they did on the road trip and that’s to fight throughout games regardless of the score and put themselves in a position to win games. The lessons from the trip, especially the fourth-quarter fight shown in that Utah game, could prove beneficial to the team for weeks to come.

``I really do feel like each game that we stepped out on the floor during this trip we felt like we were going to win,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn. ``That’s a big growth for us and we have to keep that up going forward.’’

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