By John Denton
November 2, 2012
ORLANDO – An Orlando Magic franchise that promised an unselfish and exciting brand of basketball during this new era backed up that bold talk Friday with an opening night performance for the ages.
Relying on a more team-oriented style following the offseason loss of superstar center Dwight Howard, the Magic battered the Denver Nuggets from all angles in a showing that delighted a sellout throng at the Amway Center.
And when the Magic’s 102-89 throttling of the Nuggets was complete, Jacque Vaughn had the first win of his head coaching career and the Magic had an electrifying start to its new era of basketball.
``It was amazing to get our first win in this fashion,’’ said Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who was making his Orlando debut. ``It was just a real inspiring team effort. There’s been a lot of change around here and the expectations haven’t been too high, so for us to get off to this type of start it’s a really good feeling.’’
Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis poured in 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while J.J. Redick carried the Magic for long stretches of the first half and finished with 21 points and six assists. Reserve point guard E’Twaun Moore chipped in 13 points and helped the Magic survive a shaky third quarter when its lead fell from 21 points to eight.
At the conclusion of the game, Magic captain Jameer Nelson (nine points and seven rebounds) presented the game ball to Vaughn to celebrate his first victory as a head coach. Before the game, Vaughn had thanked his team for all the work it put in during training camp. Then, the Magic went out and returned the favor to their rookie head coach with an inspired effort.
``Before the game I thanked the guys and there was no elaborate speech or elaborate poem or quote, but I thanked the guys for this month of allowing me to be their coach,’’ Vaughn said. ``I thanked them for coming to practice, being on time and having mutual respect and communication. At the end of the game, Jameer gave me the game ball and that’s the reciprocity that we’re talking about where (the respect) goes both ways. I’ll give and tonight they gave as well.’’
The only negative of the night for the Magic (1-0) came in the third quarter when veteran small forward Hedo Turkoglu (six points and two steals in 16 minutes) suffered a broken left hand, an injury that could shelve him for four-to-six weeks. The injury comes at a position where the Magic are already thin because of injuries to DeQuan Jones (strained hip) and Maurice Harkless (sports hernia). Afflalo, who struggled with his shot (three of 13) in his Magic debut and had just seven points, could shift over to the position, allowing Redick to move into the starting lineup.
Redick, one of the Magic’s holdovers following an offseason of change, was delighted with how his team shared the ball and pulled for one another throughout the game. Redick said it was a big contrast to last season when the chemistry was often undone by trade rumors and acrimony.
``It was a good feeling to win and to play together. We were all on the same page and there was no other agendas,’’ said Redick, who made seven of 11 shots and three of four 3-pointers. ``There were different agendas (last season) in that there was uncertainty all over the place and distractions. Not just with Dwight, but everybody had heard their name in different trade scenarios. So it was nice tonight to just play basketball and have that be the focus.’’
Denver (0-2) played poorly for a second straight game and looked like it is still struggling from the loss of Afflalo and Al Harrington, whom it traded to the Magic in August as part of the Howard mega-trade. Denver shot less than 40 percent most of the game and never made much of a run in the fourth quarter.
The Magic are back in action again on Sunday against the Phoenix Suns at the Amway Center. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. After that, Orlando hits the road for games in Chicago (Tuesday) and Minnesota (Wednesday).
Orlando broke open a close game in the fourth quarter and put Denver away with a thunderous alley-oop dunk from Nelson to Josh McRoberts with 5:52 to play. And Davis did the rest down the stretch, coming within two points of his career high with his 29-point effort.
``We have to take baby steps around here and this was a good day for us to build something,’’ Davis said. ``We don’t have All-Stars and we have to be able to share the ball. We’re going to need a high level of assists because we need each other out there on the court.’’
The Magic held a 46-45 edge on the boards and a 60-36 bulge on points in the paint. The Magic shot 46.8 percent from the floor, while holding Denver to 38.1 percent.
Afflalo said the Magic undoubtedly opened some eyes with their season-opening performance, but he would go so far as saying the Magic sent a statement to the rest of the basketball world.
``I don’t want to go too far because it’s just one game,’’ he said while laughing. ``Hopefully there will come a time during the season where our momentum keeps building and then our statement will be credible.’’
The Magic surrendered some of their 21-point lead in the third quarter, going just seven of 20 from the floor in the period. Redick did not score in the third period, while Afflalo continue to struggle with his shot, missing nine of his first 11 tries.
After a month of training camp and preseason games full of talk of sharing the ball and playing with great energy, the Magic went out in the first half and backed it up with a dazzling performance. Shocking to some who might have thought the squad was in full rebuilding mode – maybe even to the Nuggets – the Magic held a commanding 58-37 lead at halftime.
The Magic shredded the Denver defense by handing out 16 assists on its first 24 baskets. Redick helped in both areas, scoring 15 points and handing out four assists in the first half.
``(Sharing the ball) is one of the things that we’ve been stressing since Day One and on any given possession you don’t know who’s going to have the ball, who’s going to score and who’s going to shoot it. And that’s OK with us,’’ Vaughn said. ``We shared the basketball tonight, we looked for each other and it was fun to be a part of.’’
Redick, still a reserve but playing reserve minutes, entered the game when it was just four minutes old and immediately had a big impact. He made his first four shots and had 10 points by the end of the first quarter. Redick’s scoop shot at the end of the shot clock put the Magic up 27-16 in the first quarter and his back-to-back assists to Davis and Nik Vucevic gave Orlando a somewhat shocking 47-33 lead midway through the first half.
And Redick got plenty of inside support from Davis, who didn’t seem one bit bothered by giving away several inches in height to Denver centers Kosta Koufos (7-foot) and JaVale McGee (7-foot). Davis made seven of 12 shots in the first two quarters for 15 points. His thunderous follow dunk off a missed shot put Orlando up 58-37 and had the Amway Center crowd roaring with approval.
And when the victory was wrapped up and the Magic were together in a highly charged locker room, Nelson was there with the game ball to present to his head coach. Nelson said Vaughn has given this team the freedom to play and respect as professionals, and the team wanted to return the favor in the opener.
``You want to do well for your coach and your organization and when you have a guy like Jacque who has put so much into it, you have special moments like that and you want to cherish them,’’ Nelson said. ``One thing we all talked about is we’re in this together. He thanked us for the game for playing so hard and tonight was just a token of us thanking him back.’’
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