By John Denton
October 11, 2012
ORLANDO – A boisterous crowd of 18,106 at the Amway Center got its first look at the revamped Orlando Magic on Thursday night, and while there was no all-star center in place, there was still plenty of production from a committee of Magic big men.
While Nikola Vucevic, Gustavo Ayon and Kyle O’Quinn won’t soon make Magic fans forget the departed Dwight Howard, the trio more than held their own on the inside against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Magic squandered another fourth-quarter lead and lost 102-95 to the 76ers, but it was of no fault of Vucevic (12 points and 10 rebounds), Ayon (eight points, six rebounds and five assists) and O’Quinn (four points and four rebounds). The combined 24 points and 20 rebounds were numbers quite similar to the one the all-star who previously locked down the position put up, so the Magic (0-2) emerged quite pleased with their big-man rotation.
``They were very active,’’ said rookie head coach Jacque Vaughn, who was making his Magic debut at the Amway Center. ``Nik started the game and had a good presence out there by rebounding on both ends. And then (Ayon) came into the game with great energy, running the floor and being great at passing the ball and finding seams. Our bigs really gave us something tonight.’’
Much like in Sunday’s exhibition opener in Mexico City, the Magic seemingly had control of the game midway through the fourth quarter only to see victory slip away once again. Orlando led New Orleans by 21 points on Sunday only to lose 85-80. On Thursday, the Magic led 89-82 with 7:36 to play, but immediately surrendered a 13-2 run to lose the lead. The Magic had a chance to tie the game, but E’Twaun Moore’s 20-foot was off line.
Vaughn remained calm throughout, sticking to a personal code of conduct that he promised the team when he took the head coaching job in July. He said he ``awed at the beauty of the arena’’ when he walked out on the floor hours before the game, but otherwise didn’t take much time to soak in the perspective of his first home game as the Magic’s head coach.
``I don’t see (his mentality) changing too much. I might complain a little more about some of the calls, but my approach with the players won’t change,’’ Vaughn said. ``I introduced myself to them with this demeanor and it’s a respectable way to treat people.’’
Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis led the Magic with 16 points and Hedo Turkoglu added 13 points. Rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson, the Magic’s first-round pick last spring, scored 14 points by making seven of 15 shots. The Magic coaching staff has been trying to get Nicholson to play more physical and he was clearly working harder Thursday night to hold his positioning in the post.
``I was just hitting the guy first and establishing my position in the post,’’ Nicholson said. ``I was just trying to play every possession, run the floor and do the little things.’’
Philadelphia (1-0) point guard Jrue Holiday made 12 of 14 shots for 27 points and showed off some new shooting range by making three 3-pointers. The Sixers were without center Andrew Bynum, who they acquired in the four-team trade that involved the Magic and Howard, because of knee troubles.
The Magic don’t play again until Monday when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers in Cincinnati. They then face the Detroit Pistons in another road game on Tuesday. The next home game is Friday, Oct. 19 against the Indiana Pacers.
Vucevic came to the Magic this summer from the Sixers, making Thursday’s start extra special to him. Vaughn has raved about his ability to rebound outside of his area and he thrived on the boards once again with 10 rebounds (four offensive) in 20 minutes.
``To me, rebounding is more of a hustle play and I have to work hard on the boards to help this team,’’ said the 7-foot Vucevic, who also made six of eight shots. ``Rebounding is also about having a feel for where the ball is going to come off and going to get it.’’
Ayon, who was given the royal treatment over the weekend in Mexico City as just the third Mexican-born player to reach the NBA, has surprised the Magic with his ability to deftly pass the ball to open cutters and also hit seams to get open around the basket. He made four of seven shots, grabbed three of his six boards on the offensive end and made several more hustle plays to win over his teammates. But it’s his team-high five assists (tied with J.J. Redick) that he was most proud of.
``That’s something that’s natural and it’s nothing out of the ordinary for me,’’ Ayon said through an interpreter. ``I guess it comes from watching Magic Johnson all of those years.’’
Philadelphia led 59-58 at the break thanks to the remarkable shooting of Holiday, who had 19 first-half points. But the Magic countered with strong play from their starting frontline. Turkoglu made five of six shots and had 11 points in the first half.
Vucevic showed off his soft hands by catching several passes in traffic and finishing at the rim. He had 10 points and seven rebounds by halftime – making it the second consecutive preseason game that he had at least seven rebounds in the opening half of play.
``I guess playing basketball comes natural to me. I’m from a basketball family and I’ve put a whole lot of work into the game,’’ Vucevic said. ``I just have to keep at it and keep improving.’’
Davis had nine points in the first half by getting to the free throw line five times. He attempted 10 free throws in the opening preseason game, something that is a good sign for the Magic because it means that he is attacking the basket rather than settling for jump shots.
Led by Holiday’s vastly improved outside shooting, Philadelphia raced to a big early lead. The Sixers made five of seven 3-pointers in the first quarter – three of them coming from Holiday – and led by as much as eight early on.
But the Magic clawed back into the game by spreading the ball around and attacking the Philadelphia defense from all angles. Six Magic players had at least two baskets in the first quarter, while nine players in all scored for an Orlando squad that made 64 percent of its shots in the first 12 minutes.
Overall, Vaughn said the Magic made improvements from Game 1 to Game 2 in sharing the ball and shooting better, but took a step back with their transition defense. The Sixers had 24 fastbreak points – twice as many as the Magic.
``I did think we improved in various areas, but we had some setbacks as well,’’ said Vaughn, who played only one starter more than 26 minutes (Redick with 29 minutes).
``Our transition D was area (that got worse). And when the ball stops on offense, that’s when we get in trouble.’’
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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