Denton's Notebook: Friday, March 15

By John Denton
March 15, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has often treated his rookies this season with kid gloves, carefully picking and choosing spots to play them to ensure success.

But considering what Vaughn has thrown at rookie forward Maurice Harkless of late, clearly those kid gloves have now come off.

Harkless arrived in Oklahoma City on Thursday night knowing that the defensive assignment for him would be NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant. That matchup comes on the heels of the long-armed Harkless guarding LeBron James, Paul George and Steve Nash in the past two weeks.

Harkless called Durant, ``one of the best players in the world,’’ but felt confident in his abilities as a defender considering the success he’s already had this season against the likes of Carmelo Anthony, James and Nash. Harkless planned to spent much of Friday afternoon watching video cutups of Durant’s favorite offensive moves in an attempt to prepare.

``I have to come into every game with a defensive mindset,’’ said Harkless, a 19-year-old rookie, who came into Friday’s game averaging 0.95 steals a game and 0.75 blocks a game. ``Basically my job is to bring energy on the (defensive) side of the floor and just let the offense come to me.’’

PLAYOFF CHALLENGERS: Including Friday’s game in Oklahoma City, the Magic will play 14 teams currently in the playoffs over the final 17 games of the season. The Magic face Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks twice. They also have difficult road games at Indiana, New York, Houston and San Antonio.

Vaughn said the quality of foes down the stretch will test a Magic squad filled with five rookies and three second-year players.

``This is a great test for us, it starts (in Oklahoma City) and it will continue the rest of the way by playing a majority of playoff teams who are jockeying for playoff position,’’ Vaughn said. ``There are no off nights or sympathy nights. So we better bring it or we’ll get embarrassed. That’s a great motivator.’’

Vaughn said he doesn’t believe in looking at stretches of games as a simulated playoff series, instead stressing that his team simply focus on that night’s game. Vaughn also doesn’t want to fall into the cliché of calling the final stretch of games the Magic’s playoffs. The real thing will be coming soon enough for the Magic, Vaughn said.

``I have not once time gone to our guys and had a five-game trip where I said, `OK, we’ve got to win three. Or split these two or win all five.’ Let’s win today’s game and play the best that we can. I think that’s the best approach moving forward,’’ Vaughn said.

``The cliché would be to say that this is our playoffs. Well, it’s not,’’ Vaughn continued. ``We’ll be in the playoffs one day and I’ll say, `We’re in a playoff game.’ But for us, it really challenges yourself to just do your job. These teams are playing for the postseason and one day we will also. The challenge is to get yourself up to do your job every night. That’s what the good ones do.’’

ETC: Like most NBA teams in Oklahoma City to play the Thunder, the Magic stayed at the Skirvin Hilton hotel. For years, rumors have abounded about the hotel being haunted. The hotel opened in 1911, closed in 1988 and sat abandoned for 19 years. It was reopened in 2007 and teams such as the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks have blamed losses in past years on sleepless nights at the Skirvin. Harkless, a rookie, admitted that he was somewhat skittish of staying in a supposed haunted hotel. Said Harkless: ``I was aware of it and I really don’t like stuff like that, so I was a little paranoid. Actually I woke up at 4:45 in the morning, sweating and I don’t know if I was just paranoid or something happened. I couldn’t go back to sleep until 5:30 or 6.’’ … Vaughn was asked by media from Oklahoma City about his experience as a first-year head coach before the game. While Vaughn said he certainly would have preferred more wins and fewer victories, Vaughn promised that ``the experience gained (for Orlando’s young players) is invaluable and will pay big dividends down the line.’’ … The Magic play the Bucks in Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon – their first game against the Bucks since the six-player transaction before the NBA Trade deadline. Orlando sent J.J. Redick, Ish Smith and Gustavo Ayon to Milwaukee for Tobias Harris, Beno Udrih and Doron Lamb. Redick was a fan favorite in Orlando, making tremendous progress as a player for the Magic for seven seasons.

MORE STORIES: Harkless Earning Trust | Afflalo Embracing Renovation | Harris Finds Inspiration From Father; Thriving in Orlando | Udrih Relieved to be Out of Milwaukee

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