Denton: Teammates Helping Lift Vucevic's Confidence


By John Denton
December 6, 2012

SACRAMENTO – Several minutes after the Orlando Magic’s loss to the Utah Jazz Wednesday night center Nikola Vucevic was still sitting at his locker with his shoulders slumped and his eyes staring down at the floor.

A few feet away, Jameer Nelson pealed an icepack away from his left eye and noticed that his teammate and new friend was taking the loss rather hard. Being one of the Magic’s captains and arguably the most respected voice in the locker room, Nelson felt the need to intercede to pick up the spirits of the 22-year-old center.

``Remember what I said – not too high and not too low,’’ Nelson said as he reapplied the icepack to his left eye, which featured a gash from an accidental head-butt. ``You are covering the biggest dudes out there and they are going to make shots. Get your head up, we need you!’’

In just his second year in the league, Vucevic’s sometimes shaky confidence needs a pick-me-up from time to time when he doesn’t fare so well against some of the NBA’s elite big men. Wednesday was one of those nights as Utah’s Al Jefferson torched the Magic for 31 points and 15 rebounds as the Jazz surged at the end to win 87-81.

If Vucevic needed inspiration, he needed look no further back than the first two games of this nine-day road trip for the Magic (7-11). On Sunday, Vucevic played arguably his finest game in a Magic uniform when he battled former Orlando center Dwight Howard all night and racked up 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. And a night later, he battered the smallish Golden State Warriors for 14 points, 15 rebounds (six on the offensive glass) and two more blocked shots.

The back-to-back performances were a much-needed shot in the arm for Vucevic, whom the Magic acquired in August in the four-team, 12-player trade that centered around Howard. And come Friday night in Sacramento, he’ll once again have to prove his bounce-back abilities when he faces DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings’ leader in scoring (16.6 ppg.) and rebounding (9.7 rpg.). Sacramento (5-12) beat Toronto on Wednesday night – all five of its wins have come at home – behind 25 points and 13 rebounds from Cousins.

``Considering I struggled a little bit before this roadtrip, it’s really good that I’ve been able to pick it up,’’ said Vucevic, who still had six points, 16 rebounds and two blocked shots on Wednesday. ``My teammates kept believing in me, kept passing me the ball and I’m finishing better now because I’m more aggressive.’’

Vucevic has plenty of people in his corner when he goes through rough stretches in the season, as he did just before the roadvtrip with games against first-ballot Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett and again Wednesday night against Jefferson. His father, Borislav, played basketball professionally in Belgium, Switzerland and Yugoslavia and usually speaks to his son after every game after watching back in Montenegro. Borislav’s comments aren’t always pleasant, Nikola said, but they are usually on point and meant to help. After all, Borislav should know what he’s talking about since he played professionally until he was 44 years old.

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