By John Denton
February 8, 2013

``We started off early with too many turnovers and the transition turnovers hurt us. And in the second half fouling hurt us,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said while shaking his head. ``This game is a great game and it teaches you lessons every single time you step out there. We had some good things offensively … but we have to put it all together in one game.’’

Vucevic, whose game seems to blossom to another level on a nightly basis, scored a career-best 25 points on 12 of 19 shooting. He notched his 27th double-double of the season by halftime and finished with 13 rebounds.

``We gave them too many easy points (at the foul line) and too many second-chance opportunities,’’ Vucevic said. ``We have to foul less because we’re not a team that’s going to just outscore everybody. We were solid at times defensively, but we just gave them too many free throws and that got them going. We have to do a better job of controlling that.’’

Playing before a host of fans from St. Bonaventure where they made the three-hour drive to Cleveland, Nicholson scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds. He finished one point shy of his career best.

``I had an aggressive mentality tonight and I just went out there wanting to compete,’’ said Nicholson, who made nine of 13 shots. ``Coach (Vaughn) says that when we compete we give ourselves a chance every night. I think we’ve been doing a relatively good job of that.’’

Afflalo, out the past six games with a calf strain, scored 23 points and hit two 3-pointers. Magic point guard Jameer Nelson endured a poor shooting night (five of 16), but chipped in 15 points, 12 assists and four 3-pointers.

The Magic will be off on Saturday and host the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Amway Center. The Blazers defeated the Magic 125-119 in overtime in Portland on Jan. 7. J.J. Redick scored 29 points and hit six 3-pointers in that game, and the Magic hope to have the standout shooting guard back for Sunday’s game.

While encouraged by the offensive improvement and having Afflalo back on the floor, Vaughn was disappointed by Orlando’s 26 fouls. By comparison, Cleveland committed just 15 fouls. Speights, who has helped Cleveland go 6-2 since his arrival from Memphis, made 10 free throws in the second half alone against the foul-prone Magic. Vaughn said one of the primary hallmarks of good defense is being able to play physical without fouling.

``If we just take away some of their free throws, it puts us in a much better position,’’ Vaughn said. ``They got to the bonus earlier than us. We had good possessions when we had good stops and then we don’t come away with the board. That’s debilitating at times.’’

Tied at the half, the Magic played well early in the third quarter and sprung ahead by as much as six at one point. But turnovers leading to easy points for Cleveland caused Orlando to tail off late in the third period. Cleveland’s 10-2 run to close the third put the Magic into an 85-80 hole heading into the fourth quarter.

After scoring just 61 and 76 points in the past two games, the Magic were much more efficient and cohesive in the first half on Friday. Orlando drilled 53 percent of its shots in the first two quarters. The Magic had 16 assists on their first 24 baskets, nine of the assists coming from Nelson in the first half.

Nicholson, who had a contingent of fans in the crowd from St. Bonaventure (three hours away), and he gave them something to cheer about in the first half with some stellar play. He scored 14 points early on by hitting a variety of free throw line jump shots and hooks from the low block.

Vucevic, who found out on Friday that he will play for Charles Barkley’s squad in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, notched his 28th double-double of the season by halftime. He drilled a 12-foot jumper at the horn, tying the Magic and Cavs at 56-all at the intermission and giving himself 15 points and 10 rebounds.

``I’ve been working on my game the whole year and I’m trying to add different things to help me offensively,’’ Vucevic said. ``I’m just getting more comfortable down in the low post and I stay on top of my mid-range jump shot every day in practice. Then when it comes to games, I just try to do the same things that I do in practice. (On Friday) I got in a good rhythm and I kept it going.’’

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