By John Denton
March 22, 2013
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.
``I really believe in Rob Hennigan,’’ Durant said. ``He was here (in Oklahoma City) with us the last few years and I believe what he is doing with these guys is going to push them over the top. I am a big fan of the Magic and I would like to see them do well.’’
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said that while the comparisons to the Thunder (51-19) are bound to come if his team continues to show the kind of growth and promise that it did on Friday night, Orlando still has lots of steps to accomplish along the way.
``I think the comparisons are obvious because of Rob and I’s background and our relationship with Sam Presti and the amazing job that he’s done in Oklahoma City. But the situations are different. A lot of things have to fall in place for us to be at a level where Oklahoma City is,’’ Vaughn said. ``They’ve done the right way and there were some days for some people where it seemed like their day wasn’t coming, but it came for them. That’s kind of the inspiration that we have here. When our time comes, we’ll say that we earned it. That’s what we’re about.’’
Jameer Nelson had 16 points and 10 assists for a Magic squad that fell behind by as much as 15 points, but rallied to twice take a two-point lead in the fourth quarter. There were six ties and six lead changes in the game.
Making the first start of his NBA career, O’Quinn had 11 points and nine rebounds. Beno Udrih had 13 points and five assists off the bench, while Harris struggled through a three of 17 shooting night, but still managed 10 points and 15 rebounds.
``It was just unbelievable overall effort from every guy,’’ Vaughn said. ``As a coach you want to be proud of your team and what they’re doing. Tonight’s game typifies who we want to be.’’
Serge Ibaka had five blocks, 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Thunder. Russell Westbrook had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds for an Oklahoma City team that broke a two-game losing streak.
Westbrook and Durant combined for 21 of the Thunder’s 27 fourth-quarter points. Durant broke an 86-all tie with a 3-pointer with 2:44 to play and the Thunder never trailed again.
The Magic will be off until Monday night when they host the surging Miami Heat, winners of the past 25 games in a row. The Magic have twice come close to beating the Heat this season, losing by two points in overtime in December and by one earlier this month in Miami.
Already without starting center Nikola Vucevic, the Magic lost shooting guard Arron Afflalo early in the second quarter when he landed awkwardly on his right leg and reached for his right hamstring. Afflalo grabbed his leg with one hand and called timeout with the other while retaining possession of the ball.
Afflalo, who had six points and three rebounds in 13 minutes, needed the help of two teammates to get to the locker room. If Afflalo’s hamstring is strained or pulled, he could be out a matter of weeks. A tear obviously would put his return in question for the remainder of the season.
Vucevic, the only Magic player to appear in the first 68 games of the season, missed his second consecutive game because of the lingering effects of a concussion. Vucevic was hit in the mouth twice on Tuesday against Indiana and could not play on Wednesday because of concussion-like symptoms.
He is now subject to following the NBA’s protocols for head injuries. He’ll need to pass gradual increase tests, such as riding a stationary bike, jogging and getting through non-contact drills. It could knock him out of action for another week. Harkless had 12 points in a stellar third quarter as the Magic pulled within 70-66 by the start of the fourth quarter.
``In the first and the second half I was a completely different player,’’ Harkless said. ``In the first half I wasn’t as aggressive. But especially when Arron went down I knew I had to step up, make plays and make things happen.’’
The Magic trailed 47-34 at the half after doing the very thing that they went into Friday’s game hoping to avoid. Orlando turned the ball over nine times in the first half, leading to seven OKC points. The Magic staged an enormous comeback against the Thunder last week by dramatically reducing its turnovers in the second half.
Oklahoma City surged ahead by as much as 15 points in the first half by getting a quick start from Ibaka, who took advantage of the smallish Magic being without Vucevic. Ibaka had 11 points and six rebounds in the first half. Many of his buckets came off feeds from Westbrook, who missed all five of his shots, but dished out six assists.
Back at his forward position after being forced to play center on Wednesday in New York, Harris had a thunderous dunk early in the game to excite the Amway Center crowd. But he missed 10 of his 13 shots in the first half.
Harkless, who was complimented earlier in the day by Durant for his gritty play, stuffed the stat sheet early on with seven points, four rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
Harkless said that while he was proud of his team for continuing to fight throughout Friday’s second half against an elite team, he is disappointed that the Magic can’t find a way to win late. Orlando had only one free throw in the final 2:27 of the game to result in another close loss.
``It (stinks). Plain and simple, it (stinks) because we’re in all of these games and we can’t close it out,’’ Harkless said. ``Hopefully we’ll get there.
Follow John Denton on Twitter here