Denton's Notebook: Friday, Feb. 8

By John Denton
February 8, 2013

CLEVELAND – Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic takes great pride in being picked to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge at NBA All-Star weekend because it is a testament to just how far he’s come in his short professional career.

But Vucevic knows that the game itself will likely afford him few chances – if any at all – to show off his improved skills.

Because all-star games tend to be showcases for guards and alley-oop fests to sleek forwards, Vucevic expects to see the ball very little in the Feb. 15 game in Houston.

Vucevic, the NBA’s only second-year player averaging a double-double in points (12.1 ppg.) and rebounds (11.4 rpg.), was a pick by TNT analyst/team captain Charles Barkley on Thursday night.

Vucevic, who ranks fourth in the NBA in rebounding, knows what his primary job will be in the all-star game.

``I’m just going to try to rebound because there will be a lot of shots taken in that game,’’ Vucevic said with a laugh. ``I’m going to get rebounds and tip-ins and just focus on that because big men don’t get a lot (of shots). But I might get a couple of threes up.’’

Vucevic, whom the Magic acquired in August from Philadelphia in a blockbuster four-team, 12-player trade, did say that he still has great pride over being selected to play in the all-star game. He’s worked hard to improve his rebounding and finishing around the rim and that work is paying off for him and the Magic now.

``It will be fun to meet (Barkley) because I’ve never had a chance to meet him,’’ Vucevic said. ``Once I get there I will realize that I have made a real big step in my career. Even though it’s just the rookie-sophomore game, it’s still a big step for where I came from and last year when I wasn’t playing that much. It’ll be a great experience for me getting to meet all of the best players in the NBA, talk to them and learn from them.’’

AFFLALO’S AVERAGE: Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who returned Friday night following a six-game absence because of a calf strain, takes great pride in being somewhat of a self-made player. He’s worked to get better each of his six years in the league to where he is now a borderline all-star wing player.

As a sign of Afflalo’s steady progress, he’s boosted his scoring average in each of his six NBA seasons. Surrounded by mostly veterans in his rookie season in Detroit, Afflalo averaged a pedestrian 3.7 points per game. But since then he’s scoring average has climbed to 4.9 ppg., 8.8 ppg., 12.6 ppg., 15.5 ppg. to a team-high 16.7 ppg. this season for the Magic. Fittingly enough, Afflalo has the same sore of trend with his scoring in college at UCLA, boosting his average all three years.

While he’s proud that his offensive game has taken another step forward, Afflalo said there is still plenty of work left for him to do this season.

``I’m not finished. We still have 30-some-odd games left. I’m the type of guy who always keeps hope from a team standpoint,’’ Afflalo said. ``But from an individual standpoint I’m going to keep pushing for this year and as I push forward through my career.’’

Said Magic coach Jacque Vaughn of Afflalo: ``He’s at the stage in his career where this is a new challenge for him and a new team and he’s going to keep pushing. He’s made himself into the player that he is today.’’

PHYSICAL PRESSENCE: Injuries to several Magic players have depleted the roster, but it has opened up an opportunity for the likes of rookie center/power forward Kyle O’Quinn.

Using his bruising, physical style of play, O’Quinn seems to have carved out a place in Vaughn’s rotation. He had 11 points and three boards last week against Boston and he followed that up with nine points and a block against Miwlaukee. On Wednesday, O’Quinn had one of the best games of his NBA career with 10 points, nine rebounds, three assists and a block.

He said because he is a bit undersized against NBA centers, he has to take a ``hit first’’ approach and he’s certainly been willing to bang inside of late.

``I’m not the most athletic guy out there, so I have to play my game on the ground and hit first,’’ O`Quinn said. ``I have to try to stop the athletic guy’s momentum because some of these big guys can really jump and move, especially the veteran guys who know all of the tricks.’’

O’Quinn said the transition from tiny Norfolk State to the NBA has been a transition, but he’s slowly picking up some of the sneaky tactics that big men use on the inside. Said O’Quinn: ``You can pick up anything from guys who have played 20 games more than me. (Vucevic) helps me out, and that just shows me how many tricks there are out there. Every day you learn something and you become more aware.’’

ETC: There was apparently a mix-up as to whether Cleveland star point guard Kyrie Irving was available to play in the rookie-sophomore game because he has already been picked to play in the NBA All-Star Game. Team Shaq selected Portland point guard Damian Lillard first overall, while Team Chuck picked New Orleans center Anthony Davis. Irving was somewhat irked by the snub, saying: ``I’ve got to go out and have 50 this time, honestly. I think it was that they didn’t think I was going to play, but now being picked third, I definitely want to play.’’ … Magic guard J.J. Redick (sore shoulder) worked out before Friday’s game and could possibly play Sunday night when the Magic host the Portland Trail Blazers. Redick hurt his shoulder last Saturday night when Milwaukee center Larry Sanders fell on top of him late in the game. … Magic small forward Hedo Turkoglu did not make the trip to Cleveland because of flu-like symptoms. … Following Sunday’s home game against Portland, the Magic will host Atlanta on Wednesday before taking four days off for the NBA All-Star break.

ORLANDOMAGIC.COM FEATURES: Busy Days Ahead for Hennigan | Vucevic Earns Spot in Rising Stars Challenge

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