Denton: Vucevic vs. Jefferson Set to be Intriguing Matchup

By John Denton
March 28, 2014

ORLANDO – When Nikola Vucevic bodies up with standout Charlotte post player Al Jefferson tonight at the Amway Center, the Orlando Magic center will be armed with plenty of memories both good and bad.

When Vucevic guarded Jefferson last season for the first time, he fell for every trick on Jefferson’s bag of tricks and he torched the Magic for 31 points and 15 rebounds. When Vucevic faced Jefferson two weeks later, he held him to a respectable 12 points and just five rebounds by staying down on the pump fakes and playing sound defense.

Vucevic learned some valuable lessons from those experiences last season and he hopes to put them to use tonight when the Magic (20-52) host the Bobcats (35-37) at 7 p.m.

``The first time we played him (last season) he gave me like 30-something points and I jumped for almost every single pump fake,’’ Vucevic recalled with a chuckle. ``And then the second time we played them, I said I was not going to jump no matter what happens. I didn’t and it worked better. It’s not that easy though because he’s a good player. He has a lot of good moves, he uses his pump fake and it will be a tough task. But I look forward to it. I won’t be able to do it alone and my teammates will help me. We’ll do it as a team.’’

The Magic might have to run a variety of bodies at Jefferson considering how well the power forward has played this season. Jefferson is one of 12 players in the NBA – Vucevic is another one – averaging double figures in scoring (21.6 ppg.) and rebounding (10.5 rpg.). He’s been tremendous in March, averaging 25.4 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting a scorching 55.9 percent from the floor. He handed the Brooklyn Nets 35 points and 15 rebounds on Wednesday night in an overtime victory.

``Al is probably playing like the best big man in the league right now,’’ Vucevic said. ``He’s scoring the ball a lot and they are running a lot of plays for him. So I have a big job trying to limit him as much as I can.’’

The Magic will see the return of veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, who missed the past four games with a sore left knee. Nelson went through practice on Thursday on a limited basis and showed no ill effects on Friday. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said that Nelson will start and rookie Victor Oladipo will play off the bench as a reserve.

``He did OK in our practice and there were no residual effects,’’ Vaughn said. ``He participated in our shoot-around (on Friday morning) and he’ll start tonight.’’

Charlotte, which is led by former Magic assistant coach Steve Clifford and former Orlando staffers Patrick Ewing, Bob Beyer and Mark Price, is in line for just the second playoff berth in franchise history. The Bobcats come into Friday just 1 ½ games back of Washington for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Climbing to sixth is significant because it might help the Bobcats avoid second-seeded Miami in the first round.

The Magic and Bobcats have split two games this season with each winning on the other’s home court. Vucevic missed the Jan. 17 game in Orlando because of lingering symptoms from a concussion and Jefferson pounded the Magic for 30 points and 16 rebounds.

Orlando will start a big lineup with 6-foot-10 power forward Kyle O’Quinn playing alongside of Vucevic tonight. O’Quinn, a defensive specialist who has blocked nearly two shots a game since moving into the starting lineup, will see some time on Jefferson as well in the low post.

``He’s a very good post player and everybody knows that, but we don’t want to let him get in a rhythm, and sometimes even that doesn’t matter,’’ O’Quinn said. ``You just want to do everything that you can to stay down on the pump fakes so that he doesn’t get easy looks at the basket. You have to stay bodied up to him, make it hard for him on the catch and be annoying all night. The moment that you relax he’ll take advantage of it. And at any point he can get it going.’’