Denton: Vucevic Will Be Key Against Heat

By John Denton
March 6, 2013

MIAMI – Rare is it a game where superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are playing and the Miami Heat are going for a 16th consecutive victory and none of them are squarely in the spotlight.

For tonight at least, that distinction falls the broad shoulders of Orlando Magic 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic. After all, James and Wade said as much Wednesday morning.

When Vucevic corralled a Magic franchise record 29 rebounds against the Heat on Dec. 31 in Orlando, he got the attention of James, Wade and most importantly Miami power forward Chris Bosh. In the hours leading up to Wednesday night’s showdown between the Magic (17-44) and Heat (44-14), Bosh issued somewhat of a guarantee that Vucevic wouldn’t be setting any more rebound records.

``He won’t get 29 rebounds. So that’s that,’’ said Bosh, still stinging about getting outrebounded 29-4 in the last meeting. ``We’ll make sure of that.’’

Vucevic authored one of the finest individual performances in Magic history against the Heat in December, nearly allowing Orlando to topple Miami in a 112-110 overtime loss. The second-year center had 20 points, three steals and two blocked shots to go with his 29 rebounds. That total was one more than Shaquille O’Neal’s old franchise record set in 1995.

IN particular, it was the way that Vucevic got the rebounds that irked Miami’s James. Vucevic got 11 offensive rebounds, many of them leading to tip-ins. He also snagged 18 defensive rebounds – something that isn’t that surprising considering that Vucevic is second in the league in defensive rebounds (685) and seventh overall in rebounding (11.2 rpg.).

``He had a lot of tip-in and tips around the rim and we’ve got to do a good job of keeping him off the rim,’’ James said. ``He’s a big body. You don’t actually know that until you get on the floor with him.

``We have to be conscious of once we get the stop we’ve got to come out with the rebound,’’ James continued. ``He had a double-digit offensive rebound game, which resulted in him getting 29 rebounds. We can do a better job of that this time.’’ The Magic come into this game riding the momentum of a gritty 105-102 come-from-behind win in New Orleans on Monday night. Arron Afflalo scored 11 of his 26 points in the second half to carry the Magic down the stretch for the win.

Miami already owns its franchise record for consecutive wins with 15 and will be looking to make the Magic a 16th victim. James seems to be surging toward a fourth MVP award by averaging team highs in scoring (27 ppg.), rebounds (8.2 rpg.) and assists (7.2 assists). Orlando rookie Maurice Harkless, who shined early in the season when he blocked three Carmelo Anthony shots, will get the test of a lifetime by trying to slow down the streaking James.

``The first line of our defense is (Harkless) guarding my guy one-on-one and not letting him get by me and making sure that I don’t need help,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``So that’s a great challenge for him for sure.’’

Vaughn got a chuckle out of Bosh’s guarantee that Vucevic wouldn’t have 29 rebounds in tonight’s rematch, saying: ``That’s a pretty good guesstimate by Chris to say that Nik won’t get 29. I’d probably concur. But we still want to see if we can have that as an advantage for us, going to the boards, and making them box out and feel us at the rim.’’

Much to his credit, Vucevic said he could care less about setting any more rebound records and he just hopes to help the Magic find a way to shock the surging Heat with an Orlando victory.

``I’m not too worried about that (Bosh guarantee). I’m just going to try to play my game and try to get a win,’’ Vucevic said. ``I’m not worried about getting rebounds and putting up numbers. As long as we win the game and I get two rebounds, I’m fine with that.’’

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