By John Denton
October 7, 2012
MEXICO CITY – A new era of Orlando Magic basketball tipped off Sunday afternoon, and for 46 minutes of action things couldn’t have gone much better for rookie head coach Jacque Vaughn, a host of newcomers and a franchise eager to move past an offseason filled with change.
Then, over the final two minutes of Sunday’s game, Vaughn got to experience a season’s worth of emotions as the Magic’s young players crumbled down the stretch, resulting in a loss to ruin what could have been the coach’s first victory.
The Magic played exceptionally well with their starters in the game, racing to a 10-0 lead to open the game, leading by 16 at the half and by as much as 21 points at one time. However, the Magic experienced major closing difficulties with their younger players and lost 85-80 to the New Orleans Hornets.
The Magic controlled the game throughout the first three quarters, but squandered a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter. Keeping in line with his even-keeled approach, Vaughn took the disappointing finish in stride, promising it will serve as a learning point for Orlando’s younger players.
``We really wanted this one for Jacque, but you know what – win or lose he did a great job out there,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``He was great in timeouts and he was motivating us throughout. He was translating so well to guys in the huddle.’’
New Orleans (1-0) used a 29-10 run to open the fourth quarter to wipe out a big Magic lead. Things started going badly in the fourth period and only got worse when Magic center Gustavo Ayon accidentally tipped in a missed free throw to put the Hornets up by six with 57 seconds to play.
Vaughn, the youngest coach in the NBA at 37 years old, stood along the sidelines most of the game, but had a distinct calmness about him because he said he was fully prepared for this moment as a head coach. As a 12-year NBA player, he worked under Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, and he’s spent the past few weeks imparting many of the things he’s learned on the re-tooled Magic.
``The communication was great and I hope they appreciated the way that I talked to them. I respect them and it’s a reciprosity with respect in that it’s earned,’’ Vaughn said. ``I think our guys will appreciate that. Tonight my demeanor was pretty much the way it’s going to be all year.’’
Vaughn said there were no jitters because he is confident in his abilities as a head coach in the NBA.
``This is what I am – I’m a coach,’’ Vaughn said. ``I said to (the media) the other day that if I was trying to pretend to be something I’m not, like a race car driver or a chef, I might be nervous. But today I felt great. This is a part of who I am. I don’t get too high or too low and I think our guys will appreciate that.’’
Orlando (0-1) raced to a 10-0 lead and didn’t trail in the first 46 minutes of the game. The Magic surged ahead 46-31 at the half behind gritty inside play from Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis and some solid shooting from several wing players. All five starters scored at least six points and watched the fourth quarter from the sidelines.
Sticking to the team basketball that new GM Rob Hennigan and Vaughn predicted when discussing the composition of the Magic sans former star center Dwight Howard, Orlando had nine players score at least four points in the first half. And for the game, the scoring was spread around evenly as the ball moved crisply and players cut hard for hoops at the rim.
The game was a homecoming for Magic center Gustavo Ayon, who is just the third Mexican-born player ever to reach the NBA. Ayon, who grew up 460 miles from Mexico City, had 60 family and friends in the crowd. The former Mexican Leaguer received a standing ovation in pregame introductions and was cheered each time he touched the ball. He finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Davis, who finished last season on a strong note in the playoffs, picked up where he left off with 13 points and five rebounds. Facing New Orleans 7-footer Robin Lopez, Davis had a nice sequence in the third quarter when he converted a layup over the center and then later snatched a rebound away for another hoop.
Reserve guard E’Twaun Moore had 14 points for the Magic.
``It was fun seeing our guys get out and play with pace,’’ Vaughn said. ``I told the guys at halftime, `I don’t know who is going to get the ball and I don’t know who is going to shoot it.’ That’s the best part of it because neither does the defense (know). So it was great how we shared the basketball and whoever scores, scores.’’
The Magic were scheduled to return to Orlando following the game. The Magic will host the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday in the exhibition home opener.
The game also featured a reunion with Ryan Anderson, who was dealt to New Orleans (1-0) in the offseason in a sign-and-trade transaction. Anderson led the league in 3-point makes and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last season while wearing a Magic uniform.
Anderson, who is coming off the bench despite signing a $36 million contract in the offseason, missed his first five shots and struggled most of the game against his former team. He made just one of 11 shots and one of eight 3-pointers. He finished with six points and eight rebounds.
New Orleans’ forward Anthony Davis, the top overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, had eight points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots. Orlando native and son of former Magic coach Doc Rivers, Austin Rivers had 10 points for the Hornets. For weeks Vaughn has been promising that the Magic would play with a team concept, sharing the ball unselfishly and helping one another out. That was on full display in the first half as the Magic stormed to a 46-31 lead.
Orlando had nine players score at least four points in the first half. And the Magic had to be creative with how they scored after shooting just 40.5 percent in the first 24 minutes.
Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis made seven of eight free throw attempts in the first half; Ayon had three field goals and six points early on, while fellow center Nikola Vucevic chipped in eight rebounds in the first half. Rookies Andrew Nicholson (four points) and DeQuan Jones (six points) were also impressive early in the game with their hustle running the floor.
The Magic opened their new era with a rousing start to the game, opening with a 10-0 spurt over the first four minutes. Ayon, who elicited cheers each time he touched the ball, scored on a left-handed layup to give the Magic their first basket of the season.
The first quarter featured a rough start for Anderson, who missed all five of his shots and four 3-point tries. Anderson wasn’t shy, continuing to shoot while also crashing the boards. He had four boards in the first quarter, three of them coming on the offensive glass.
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.
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