By John Denton
March 22, 2013

ORLANDO – Because of the ties of Orlando GM Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn to Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti, some have already began to wonder if the Magic’s rebuilding process could eventually help them become something of a powerhouse similar to the Thunder in the very near future.

Consecutive seasons of 31, 20 and 23 victories allowed the Sonics/Thunder to draft Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the since-departed James Harden, building the foundation of a perennial 50-win team.

The Magic’s first phase of rebuilding – centered around Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris and Kyle O’Quinn – was on display opposite the Thunder on Friday night at the raucous Amway Center. And for one night, at least, Orlando displayed the kind of mettle and grit to keep pace with one of the NBA’s best teams.

Orlando eventually came up short, losing 97-89 to the Thunder when Durant came up big with crucial points late in the fourth quarter, but the Magic had to have earned some measure of respect for the way they battled throughout.

Harkless, the Magic’s rising rookie forward, helped to steady a shorthanded Magic (18-52) team that was without injured starters Arron Afflalo and Nikola Vucevic. The small forward had a career best 25 points and nine rebounds, while also guarding Durant (25 points and eight rebounds) most of the night. Harkless sees the similarities between the blossoming Magic and the established Thunder.

``Our GM (Hennigan) came from the Thunder and I think he’s trying to put a similar young and athletic team together,’’ said Harkless, who made 11 of 18 shots. ``If you look around we have eight guys under the age of 23. I think (Hennigan) is definitely trying to use (the Thunder) as a model. I think he’s doing a good job so far.’’

Durant, who made seven of 14 shots and nine of 11 free throws on Friday, said he has quickly become a Magic fan because of working with Hennigan in the past and the growth of a player like Harkless.


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