Denton: Vucevic Reveres Duncan

By John Denton
April 3, 2013

SAN ANTONIO – Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic grew up half a world away and is in just his second NBA season, but his knowledge of Tim Duncan extends much deeper than one would expect.

As a teenager in Montenegro, Vucevic used to marvel at the footwork and fundamentals of Duncan as he watched San Antonio Spurs games via satellite television. Vucevis grew up a Chicago Bulls fan, often dressing head to toe in red and black. But as an emerging 7-footer, Vucevic always took time out to study Duncan’s game and try to pick up as many tips as possible.

``I watched him a lot and he’s definitely one of the greatest players to ever play. Just going against him, I get to learn a lot. It’s going to be a tough matchup and I’m looking forward to it,’’ said Vucevic, whose Magic face the Spurs tonight at 8:30 ET.

``(Duncan) plays the right way. He’s very smart. And he’s able to do a lot of things to help his team because he’s able to score, rebound and he’s a very smart defensive player. He’s a very tough matchup and I’ll have to do my best tonight against him.’’

Because the Spurs still feature a rugged style and often like to play power forward Tiago Splitter and Duncan together, Orlando is expected to counter with a big lineup of its own. The Magic will add power forward Andrew Nicholson to the starting lineup alongside of Vucevic. Tobias Harris will shift to his natural position at small forward, while Mo Harkless will move over to shooting guard. And with Jameer Nelson out once again because of a sprained ankle, Beno Udrih will start at point guard.

``We’ll have to be strategic in who we have on the floor,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``We’ve talked about it and addressed it and our rotations will have to reflect their backcourt and their frontcourt. Both of them will be strategically ready.’’

The game will also serve as a homecoming of sorts for Vaughn, who played in San Antonio for three seasons and got his start in coaching under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for two years. Vaughn was a part of the 2007 NBA title that the Spurs won, but he said he’ll attempt to treat Wednesday’s game the same as any other.

``I’ll see if I can practice what I preach a little bit,’’ Vaughn said of treating every game the same. ``For me, I’ll try to treat it like every other game. I’ll probably say hello to those (Spurs coaches) before the game, but I’ll be focused on the task at hand.’’

In his 16th NBA season, Duncan has experienced somewhat of a rebirth as Popovich has used him smartly to conserve his energy for the late-season push and the playoffs. Duncan has appeared in just 62 games and 30.2 minutes a night, resting in the Spurs’ previous game which was a last-second loss in Memphis. His numbers this season – 17.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.7 blocks – closely resemble the numbers that he has put up over the course of his Hall of Fame career – 20.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 blocks a game.

Orlando’s Vucevic has put himself into the running for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award by averaging 12.5 points and 11.5 rebounds a game – major jumps in both categories over his rookie season in Philadelphia. His rebounding total ranks third in the NBA, while his 39 double-doubles are sixth in the NBA.

Vucevic’s long history of study game film of Duncan in the post lets him know that he has his work cut out for him tonight. And he is hopeful that he will be able to learn a thing or two along the way that will translate to his own game in the future.

``Once I was like 12 or 13 I had NBA TV on satellite and we started watching more and more games. Not live, but the next day when they would replay the games. I actually remember when (the Spurs) played Cleveland in the Finals in ’07,’’ Vucevic said. ``(Duncan) has a lot of ways to score on the offensive end. He’s a guy I can watch and learn from. And I have some coaches (with Orlando) who have worked with him (in San Antonio) so maybe they can give me some tips.’’

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