By John Denton
February 2, 2013

``It’s a decision that you have to make internally and I’ve made that decision. For me as a head coach, it’s my job to lead this team and lead my coaching staff and represent this organization the way it wants to be represented,’’ Vaughn vowed. ``I have a great group of men in the locker room and they have been unbelievable and receptive to the message that we have been giving them. Their approach has been professional and they’ve been competitive each and every night and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.’’

Magic center Nikola Vucevic delivered with his 26th double-double of the season with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Rookie Maurice Harkless had his second strong game of the trip, notching career highs in both points (19) and rebounds (14).

``I was just trying to be aggressive. A lot of times I saw that my man wasn’t trying to box me out, so I just attacked the rim for offensive rebounds,’’ said Harkless, who had six boards off the offensive glass. ``I got it a few times and put ‘em back in.’’

But Orlando had no answer for Milwaukee guards Brandon Jennings (20 points) and Monta Ellis (21 points and 11 assists). And on the inside, Larry Sanders (17 points and 13 rebounds) and Ersan Ilyasova (16 points and eight rebounds) were too much for the Magic’s young frontline.

The Magic didn’t have veteran point guard Jameer Nelson after he bruised his left forearm Friday night in Boston when he was hit by a Paul Pierce forearm. And while Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis is likely out for the rest of the season after fracturing a bone in his foot on Wednesday, Orlando also didn’t have Arron Afflalo because of a strained left calf muscle. Afflalo most likely won’t play until Wednesday at the earliest.

``This group continues to show themselves (well). We played everybody available tonight and we needed it,’’ Vaughn said. ``We got a lot of contributions, whether it was going for the offensive rebounds, the amount of assists or the competitive nature of every guy who stepped on that floor, it was great to see.’’

Starting point guard E’Twaun Moore (three of 14 shooting and seven points) struggled with his jump shot, as did starting shooting guard J.J. Redick (five of 16 shooting and 15 points). Redick went down with a jammed shoulder near the end and had it heavily wrapped in ice after the game.

``All you ask for is that everybody come out and play hard and try to win the ball game and that’s what we did,’’ said Moore, who added seven rebounds and six assists. ``We come out and put it all on the line, we can still learn from this.’’

The Magic conclude their five-game, nine-day road trip on Monday in Philadelphia against the 76ers. Orlando hosts the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday at the Amway Center.

Seven straight points early in the third quarter gave the Magic their first lead since the game was 2-0 early on. And minutes later, when rookie Kyle O’Quinn (nine points) buried a jumper from the free throw line, Orlando had a 61-60 lead.

``I mean, this is the NBA and everybody can play; it’s just a matter of when you are going to get an opportunity,’’ Harkless said. ``We just did a good job of competing. Unfortunately we didn’t come out with the win, but we showed what we can do.’’

But the Magic lead would be short-lived as Milwaukee’s guards got hot, allowing the Bucks to push their lead out to 79-67 by the start of the fourth quarter. The Magic got no closer than five points the rest of the way.

The Magic were wobbly early on as they adjusted to life without Nelson, Afflalo and Davis, falling behind by as much as 13 points in the first quarter. But Orlando kept clawing and kept pushing to get within 52-48 by halftime.

The injury-depleted Magic got huge lifts in the first half from their four rookies. Harkless was extremely active and cutting hard to the basket, and he was repeatedly rewarded. He scored 11 points in the first half by making five of 10 shots and he added five boards early on.

Jones also went hard to the rim and scored eight first-half points. O’Quinn and Nicholson combined for five points early on, giving the Magic’s four rookies 24 points in the first half.

``The best part of this group is that when I get to the huddle, it’s not just the coaches talking; it’s also the players being involved,’’ Vaughn said of his team’s fighting spirit. ``Having a say in what we’re doing shows that they are investing and competing. That’s the greatest part for a coach when the guys are still engaged in what we’re trying to do. That’s a good sign for us.’’


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