By John Denton
April 3, 2013
``With a team like San Antonio you have to be focused for 48 minutes,’’ said Magic point guard Beno Udrih, who should know since he played for the Spurs’ 2007 NBA title team. ``They make the right play every time. They have a system that works for them and they have been using it forever. They are an organization that scouts really well and brings in people who really fit the system that they have.’’
Magic rookie Maurice Harkless, fresh off a career-best 28 points on Monday in Houston, had 18 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Nikola Vucevic registered his 40th double-double with another 16 points and 14 rebounds. And Udrih, who started his third straight game, contributed 14 points and eight assists.
However, the Magic simply couldn’t overcome 38.9 percent shooting and a San Antonio squad that drilled 10 3-pointers. The Spurs saw their lead shrink to as little as one point in the third quarter, but they never trailed in the game.
The night was somewhat of a homecoming for Vaughn, who played for the Spurs for three seasons and won a NBA title in 2007. Vaughn also worked two seasons as an assistant coach for San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, the coach he credits for shaping much of his style as the Magic’s mentor. Vaughn and Popovich embraced after the game.
``Those (Spurs) guys have been in many playoff series … and I’m biased, but they have the best coach in basketball,’’ Vaughn said of Popovich. ``And they play very hard for him. It was good for our guys to measure up to them, see how we need to improve and we will do that.’’
After scoring 29 points and a career-best 30 points last week against Charlotte and Washington, Tobias Harris has had trouble finding the mark on his jump shot once again. Harris, who had NBA Hall of Famer and personal mentor George Gervin looking on, made just five of 19 shots and scored 11 points in 42 minutes.
The Magic’s five-game, 10-day road trip continues Friday night in Chicago against the Bulls. Orlando closes the longest trip of the season on Sunday in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.
Orlando was once again without veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, who missed his third straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Vaughn said before Wednesday’s game that Nelson would get up some jump shots on Thursday and could be available on Friday night.
The Magic made several spirited runs at the Spurs in the third quarter, getting within one point on a lefty layup by Harris and four points on a slashing finish by Harkless. But the Magic could never overtake the Spurs’ lead and they trailed 73-65 heading into the fourth period.
The Magic played exceptionally hard in the first 24 minutes, but took a hit just before the halftime horn when Boris Diaw tipped in a miss to give the Spurs a 51-46 lead at the break.
Orlando struggled to make shots early on, but it stayed within striking distance with some gritty defense. The Magic forced the Spurs into several mistakes and nine turnovers with their hustle and activity. Orlando also blocked seven shots, getting three steals and two blocks in the first half from Vucevic.
San Antonio, which was playing without Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and DeJuan Blair, separated itself from the Magic early on by making six of 13 3-pointers. Magic rookie DeQuan Jones didn’t start as Vaughn went with Andrew Nicholson to combat the size and rugged inside play of the Spurs. But Jones didn’t allow that to deter him and he led Orlando in the first half with 12 points. He had a dunk and a nifty three-point play in transition by outrunning foes down the floor and his corner 3-pointer kept Orlando close.
``That’s a part of my game to put pressure on the rim, whether it’s in transition or attacking of the bound,’’ Jones said. ``That was part of the game plan. Coach (Vaughn) came in here in the locker room and said the teams that are successful are the aggressors. That was our plan and we did it eerly on.’’
Unlike on Monday when the Magic allowed Houston to score on the first seven possessions of the game and repeatedly get to the rim, the Magic did a good job of shutting off the lane early in the game. The Magic blocked six shots in the first quarter with Harkless, Vucevic and Harris registering two swats apiece.
With a GM (Rob Hennigan), head coach (Vaughn) and several staffers with ties to the Spurs, it’s only natural that the San Antonio model could take shape in Orlando in the future. Vaughn said that the Spurs ability to plug in various players and never miss a beat is something that the young and impressionable Magic can learn from.
``This is a San Antonio team that you can’t sit back and let them dictate and we have to be the aggressors,’’ Vaughn said. ``We tried to be the aggressors tonight, but they are a pretty well-oiled machine.’’
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