By John Denton
October 21, 2012
ORLANDO – Stretching out the minutes of the core group that will make up Orlando’s primary rotation, the Magic once again gave a glimpse on Sunday night of its identity as a balanced and unselfish team that plays hard throughout.
The Magic were without standout shooting guard Arron Afflalo and veteran small forward Hedo Turkoglu, but that did little to deter what has become a free-flowing offense that relies on ball movement and chemistry from a group of returning players. Add in a steadily improving bench full of hungry young players and the Magic’s formula for success this season is starting to take form.
The Magic played an electrifying brand of basketball Sunday night and got contributions from all over its roster to defeat the San Antonio Spurs 104-100 before 17,012 fans at the Amway Center. The victory allowed Orlando rookie coach Jacque Vaughn to defeat a Spurs team that he played for and worked with prior to joining the Magic in July.
Per his humble and selfless nature, Vaughn wanted to talk more about his improving Magic (2-4) after the game than facing a Spurs’ organization that put him on the fast track to becoming the NBA’s youngest head coach. He was happier about his team shooting 49.4 percent and racking up another 24 assists than a defeat of his former employer.
``I think the most impressive part is putting in a new system, adding new players and guys really trying to play with each other. They’ve done a really good job of sharing the basketball,’’ Vaughn said. ``We’ve stressed from Day One that this is going to be about our team scoring and our team being unselfish, screening, passing and cutting. They’ve done a really good job of doing so.’’
Rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson scored 18 points on seven of eight shooting, while starting power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis chipped in 17 points. The starting backcourt of J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson had 14 and 12 points before the starters were pulled for good with a 16-point Magic lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Backup point guard E’Twaun Moore had another stellar offensive game with 14 points and eight assists. More importantly, Moore – a converted shooting guard trying to adjust to playing point guard – didn’t have a turnover in 30 minutes on the floor.
``The only all-star in here (in the locker room) is Jameer (Nelson), so in order for us to be successful we have to use each other,’’ Davis said. ``We have to execute and share the ball. Sharing is caring, and when we do that we create opportunities for everybody. And coach is telling us to play free and when you do that with a great spirit, the open guy is the open guy and you pass him the ball. In order to be successful, that’s what we have to do.’’
San Antonio (3-3) was playing for a second consecutive night after losing in Miami on Saturday. The Spurs played Tim Duncan (nine points and four rebounds) and Manu Ginobili (12 points and four rebounds) just 12 and 17 minutes. Point guard Tony Parker struggled through a three of 13 shooting night and had 10 points in 32 minutes.
Vaughn was a part of the 2007 Spurs team that won the NBA title as a reserve point guard and he spent the past two seasons in San Antonio working as an assistant coach. He and his former head coach, Gregg Popovich, embraced before tipoff and shared some laughs about facing each other for the first time. And after the game, several Spurs coaches and players came over to embrace Vaughn and congratulate him on his opportunity with the Magic.
``That was a special feeling. It makes you think about the time you spent with those guys,’’ Vaughn said. ``You think back on what basketball is about and for me it was that right there. They know that I care for them. I’m trying to get our (Magic) players into a position where they understand how much I care about them. So tonight was pretty special.’’
Some 90 minutes before Sunday’s game, Popovich spoke glowingly about the prospects of new Magic GM Rob Hennigan and Vaughn – both products of the San Antonio system. The Magic have five staffers with ties to the Spurs, and Popovich is flattered that the Magic held the Spurs’ franchise in such high regard when restructuring its organization.
``What it means is that (Spurs GM) RC (Buford) and I have spent a lot of time trying to hire people who would make the program as good as it possibly could be,’’ Popovich said, referring to Hennigan and Vaughn. ``No matter what organization you are in, having good people is what it’s all about. I have coaches on my staff now, if I left tomorrow, I think they’d remember me for a day-and-a-half and then it would be over. We’ve been really fortunate hiring good people.’’
Vaughn and Head Athletic Trainer Keon Wise made the decision to hold out Afflalo, who has yet to play in a preseason game because of a strained hamstring. Afflalo targeted Sunday for a return, but the decision was made to not play him until Wednesday’s game in Memphis. That will give Afflalo, acquired in August from Denver, Monday and Tuesday to scrimmage before hitting the floor for his first game action with the Magic.
Vaughn gave a night off to veteran small forward Hedo Turkoglu, who suffered some back spasms in the second half of Friday’s win against Indiana. That afforded another starting opportunity to rookie DeQuan Jones, who has impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism and willingness to do dirty work for the team.
The Magic play in Memphis on Wednesday and then close the preseason Friday at home against the Houston Rockets. Orlando opens the regular season on Nov. 2 at the Amway Center against the Denver Nuggets.
Nicholson, the Magic’s first-round draft pick in June, showed off his continual progress throughout the preseason by scoring at will at times in the second half, one in which the Magic pushed their lead to as much as 16 points. Nicholson was aggressive and attacking in the post, making hook shots with both hands. Vaughn raved about his willingness to stay after practice and improve himself and it’s paying off now.
``It’s been helping working on my game and understanding (the NBA) more,’’ said Nicholson, a man usually of few words. ``I’m staying and watching tape and listening to the veterans, who have been helping me through it.’’
The Magic led 50-41 at the half thanks to some balanced scoring and more stellar passing from Redick. The Magic shooting guard came into Sunday averaging 5.5 assists a game and he had another three assists in the first half. His final one of the first half was a thing of beauty as he drove the lane and dished to rookie Nicholson, who dunked with authority despite being fouled by San Antonio’s Tony Parker.
Moore played well behind Nelson, scoring 12 points and handing our four assists in the first half. Moore, who played in Boston last season, made five of his seven shots and two 3-pointers in the first half as the Magic moved the ball well to create open shots.
Nelson, the only Magic player ever to make a NBA all-star team as Davis pointed out, said he couldn’t be happier with how Orlando has embraced Vaughn’s free-flowing offense. Nelson said the chemistry has grown tremendously throughout the preseason and the Magic are seeing now how they have to play to win this season.
``Nobody really care who gets the shots on this team and that’s a good thing,’’ said Nelson, who had 12 points and five assists. ``For the most part, everybody on the team is touching the ball. It feels good when everybody is touching it – whether they shoot or not – but it makes them feel involved. On this team, it’s not like you are out there in left field and the ball never gets hit to you. We share the ball and it feels good.’’
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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