Denton's Dish: The 5th Quarter (4/14/14)
By John Denton
April 14, 2014
CHICAGO – Keeping alive their hopes of securing the Eastern Conference’s third seed in the playoffs, the Chicago Bulls got big performances from Mike Dunleavy and Joakim Noah to stave off a second-half charge by the Orlando Magic and win 108-95.
Here are five takeaways from Orlando’s final road game of the season:
PROVING HIMSELF: The game had no playoff implications for the Magic, but that didn’t stop second-year center Kyle O’Quinn from playing one of the best games of his NBA career.
Despite facing Carlos Boozer and Noah – the potential Defensive Player of the Year – all night, O’Quinn was aggressive all night and gave the Magic some much-needed offense against the stingy Bulls’ defense.
O’Quinn made nine of 11 shots for his season-best 20 points. He finished just three points shy of his career-high of 23 points and scored in double digits for the 19th time this season. He also chipped in seven rebounds and a blocked shot.
O’Quinn, who is arguably Orlando’s most improved player this season, said it’s important for he and his teammates to take some positive momentum into their offseason workouts.
``I’m just getting an opportunity and the coaches have given me confidence,’’ said O’Quinn, who has proven himself as a solid NBA player despite being a second-round draft pick in 2012. ``This does a lot for me. They are a playoff team and they set the bar with their physicality. So to hang with those guys, you know that one day you will be there.’’
FINISHING STRONG: No one in the Magic locker room needed a strong finish to the season more than power forward Andrew Nicholson, who went 56 games without scoring in double figures before scoring 12 points on Sunday in Brooklyn.
Nicholson carried that momentum over to Monday night when he made his first five shots and finished the game eight of nine from the floor with three 3-pointers. He had another 19 points against the Bulls, giving him consecutive double-digit scoring games for the first time since December.
``I just cleared my mind out there and played, really,’’ said Nicholson, who is now shooting 42.7 percent from the floor and 31.5 percent from the 3-point line. ``That’s something that I should have done halfway through the season. But I just decided to get out there and clear my mind and have fun. This gives me confidence for the whole summer and it just makes me work harder.’’
SOUR STAT: The Magic finished the road portion of their schedule at 4-37. That’s the worst road mark in franchise history, topping the 6-35 mark set by the inaugural 1989-90 squad.
Orlando won in Atlanta, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Chicago. The defeat of the Bulls was the lone victory outside of the East Time Zone all season.
There will come a time when the Magic will have enough experience and toughness to win games on the road, head coach Jacque Vaughn said.
``I think that (road record) is indicative of where we are as a team,’’ Vaughn said. ``We’re still learning to win basketball games and we all know that it’s tougher to win on the road. We’ll get there. This group will grow and grow together.’’
SURPRISING STAT: Vaughn has raved about the professionalism and work ethic of veteran point guard Ronnie Price all season. Price’s readiness was on display on Monday night when Price pressed into duty with starter Jameer Nelson out because of a groin strain.
Price had a season-best 11 assists in24 minutes off the bench. He also scored six points and had a run-out dunk in the second half that helped to keep the Magic within striking distance.
ROOKIE RULES: Coaches often say they don’t truly know a player until they have coached them a full season. Vaughn said this season has taught him plenty about rookie guard Victor Oladipo, who had 10 points and four assists in 23 minutes on Monday.
Vaughn loves how determined Oladipo is to improve his game and he even saw marked growth from the guard as recent as Sunday night’s game against the Nets.
``The game in Brooklyn was probably his best gamesmanship he’s had on the year in terms of leading us. He was extremely verbal getting guys into spots,’’ Vaughn raved. ``When you have the basketball that’s what you have to do. That little bit about him shows more growth. Whether it’s been improvement in his jumper or his decision-making, a lot of things about him have gotten better and maybe those were things that he didn’t have to do in college.’’
Asked by Chicago media members if he sees Oladipo as a point guard or a shooting guard over the long haul, Vaughn refused to pencil the 21-year-old into one particular position.
Said Vaughn: ``I’m just hoping he becomes the best basketball player that we can make him and the best basketball player that he wants to be. That’s all that we’re concerned about.’’