Denton's Dish: The 5th Quarter (4/4/14)

Victor Oladipo

By John Denton
April 4, 2014

CHARLOTTE – Charlotte center Al Jefferson took advantage of a Nikola Vucevic injury and scored 29 points and grabbed 16 rebounds as the Bobcats beat the Orlando Magic 91-80 at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Here are five takeaways from the Magic’s loss in Charlotte on Friday:

NO NIK ON THIS NIGHT: Vucevic was scratched from the game just minutes prior to tipoff because of soreness in his left Achilles’ tendon. While his teammates were going through their usual pregame shooting drills, Vucevic hovered near midcourt working on a variety of agility drills. When he reported pain, he was held out of the game. Kyle O’Quinn was moved to center and Andrew Nicholson started at power forward.

``He was having soreness in his Achilles, so we decided to be cautious and not play him,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``(Orlando’s players) didn’t know until right before the game, so if they did (let down) it would be a quick reaction. (Vucevic) did his pregame and then I talked to him literally 7 minutes before the game. The guys didn’t know and I told Kyle (O’Quinn) that he would be guarding Jefferson right after the introductions.’’

Just a week earlier, Vucevic ``tattooed,’’ the Bobcats with 24 points and 23 rebounds, according to Charlotte coach Steve Clifford. The skilled 7-footer also had 13 points and 14 rebounds against the Bobcats earlier this season, prompting Clifford to call him `` the best player on the floor both times.’’ It was the 19th game that Vucevic has missed this season with ankle, concussion and Achilles injuries and Orlando is 2-17 in those games.

Vucevic said he didn’t injure his Achilles at one particular point, but that the injury might be an accumulation of minutes over a long season.

``I came over this morning and went through shoot around and it felt OK, but then after it got worse even though I did treatment,’’ Vucevic said. ``I went through my pregame routine and it started being more and more sore on me. I tried warming up to see if it would loosen up on me. But it was really sore.’’

BIG AL BIG AGAIN: Vucevic is known in Orlando for his rebounding acumen and his blossoming offensive game, but it’s his defensive skills that Orlando missed him most on Friday night.

Without Vucevic on the floor, Jefferson smashed the Magic for 21 points and 11 rebounds in the first half. He made 10 of his first 13 shots by using his pump fakes and up-and-under moves to create space in the lane.

Orlando tried Dewayne Dedmon, O’Quinn and Nicholson on Jefferson in the first half with little success.

In two games this season against Vucevic, Jefferson was held to a pedestrian 15 points and 9.5 rebounds a game. In the two games that Vucevic missed, Jefferson hammered the Magic for 29.5 points and 16 boards on 26 of 40 shooting (65 percent).

``The times that we’ve had success against these (Bobcats) guys, we’ve been able to contain Al,’’ Vaughn said. ``We stayed down on his pump fakes and things of that nature. Overall, our bigs stepped up and did some good things.’’

STAT OF THE NIGHT: Orlando came unglued in the second quarter, seeing a one-point lead turn into a 21-point deficit following a 27-5 run by the Bobcats.

But Orlando showed plenty of fight after halftime, holding the Bobcats to 38 second-half points. Jefferson smashed them early on with 21 points and 11 rebounds, but he managed just eight points and five boards over the final two quarters.

The Magic’s much-improved defense allowed them to get within 76-69 midway through the fourth period. But the Magic ran out of steam down the stretch and lost a third straight game.

``It was just about the effort of every guy on the floor and being in the right place and being committed to it,’’ Vaughn said. ``Overall, the energy in the second half is how we have to be.’’

BECOMING CAVS FANS: No one in Charlotte was happier to see Magic standout center Nikola Vucevic scratched from Friday’s game than Clifford, a former Magic assistant who is a strong candidate to win the NBA’s Coach of the Year award this season for the job he’s done turning around the Bobcats. Vucevic, who did a variety of shuffling and agility drills prior to the game, but was unable to play on Friday because of a sore left Achilles’ tendon.

Prior to the game, Clifford had some glowing praise for Vucevic. As he should considering that Vucevic pounded the Bobcats for 24 points and 23 rebounds a week ago when the two teams played in Orlando.

Vucevic also missed the first meeting between Orlando and Charlotte because of a sprained left ankle. He returned in time to help the Magic win in Charlotte with 13 points and 14 rebounds, four of which came off the offensive glass.

Clifford said that Vucevic has all of the skills to someday become an elite center in the NBA.

``If he played against us every night he certainly would be (an elite center),’’ Clifford said with a laugh. ``He’s played against us twice and he’s been the best player on the floor both times. He’s in a position there are not many exceptional centers. But he has size, he has a good feel for how to play and he has good instincts to rebound the ball. It’s all there for him.’’

FINAL FOUR FAVORITES: Vaughn and Oladipo are pulling for different teams at Saturday’s Final Four games because of their allegiances. Oladipo, a product of Indiana University, said he wouldn’t mind seeing fellow Big 10 school Wisconsin, win the national title, but he wouldn’t go as far as picking the Badgers to win it all.

``We’ve got one, solid team representing the Big 10 in Wisconsin, so I wish the best for them,’’ Oladipo said. ``But it might end up being a SEC battle with Florida versus Kentucky in the championship. And you can’t sleep on UConn because they have good guards. But if IU isn’t in it, I don’t really care.’’

As for Vaughn, he is pulling for Connecticut because of his close friendship with Kevin Ollie, a two-time Magic player whom Vaughn has known since their high school days in Los Angeles.

``I’ve known (Ollie) for a long time and I played against him in high school,’’ Vaughn said. ``He played at old Crenshaw High School, so we’ve known each other a long time. And I played against him in the NBA, too. We were never together because we were probably battling for (the same) roster spots.

``(Ollie) was an unselfish player, sixth guy, 13th or 18th guy, and I’m sure if you txalked to the people who played with him they will tell you he was an unselfish person who wanted the best for his teammates,’’ Vaughn said. ``That’s what makes him a good coach. … I tell our guys the sooner you learn (your role) the better off you are in this league. It takes a little crushing of your ego and understanding of yourself, which is hard for us. We all want to be Beyonce, but some of us have to just sing in church on Sundays.’’