Denton's Notebook: Saturday, March 30

By John Denton
March 30, 2013

ATLANTA– Just as the injury-ravaged Orlando Magic got one of their key pieces back on Saturday night, they lost another one to a sprained ankle.

Center Nikola Vucevic, who missed the past five games after sustaining a concussion last Tuesday, returned to action on Saturday night in Atlanta against the Hawks. But a Magic team that has now lost 184 games to injury or illness lost veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, who sprained his ankle in the opening minute of Friday’s win against the Washington Wizards.

Nelson is on the 10-day, five-game trip with the Magic, but his return will be dependent on how he responds to therapy.

``I did not see how bad of a twist it was, so he’ll be day-to-day. He’s on us with the trip and we’ll diagnose it as we go,’’ said Magic coach Jacque Vaughn, who started Beno Udrih in place of the injured Nelson.

Vaughn insisted that he would closely monitor the minutes for Vucevic for the next couple of games after he was out of action for almost a week. Being subject to the NBA’s protocol for head injuries, Vucevic had to pass a variety of tests such as riding an exercise bike, jogging on a treadmill and going through non-contact drills before being released to play.

``You’ve got to be smart with him and not push him to overexerting himself because of the days off and not having the pounding,’’ Vaughn said of Vucevic. ``We’ll get the muscles lubricated a little bit and be smart with our approach with him.’’

COMING HOME: Magic rookie DeQuan Jones returned to his hometown of Atlanta on Saturday and spent much of his time before the game scrambling for tickets to accommodate the family and friends who came out to watch him play.

Jones made his 16th start of the season Saturday night at shooting guard – something that is especially satisfying to him considering all of the doubts that he encountered early in his playing career that he’d ever play basketball professionally. Jones, who was not selected in the 2012 NBA Draft and got a training camp invite only after playing well in training camp, was one of the Magic’s best stories of the early season when he overcame the odds and made the Opening Day roster.

``I’m just enjoying the ride and looking forward to the homecoming in Atlanta,’’ Jones said. ``I’ve got a lot of family coming and it will be special to play in front of them again.’’

BENO BUENO: Magic reserve point guard Beno Udrih has been extremely outspoken about how unhappy he was while in Milwaukee, saying that the Bucks never gave him the playing time that he needed to be successful.

Udrih said he’s been revived in Orlando, where he was traded in late February along with Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb. Udrih has been on the court at valuable times, either closing games or playing alongside of starting point guard Jameer Nelson in crunch time.

He filled in nicely for the injured Nelson on Friday, scoring 10 points and handing out nine assists in 31 minutes in the defeat of Washington. In 18 games with the Magic, he’s playing 22.2 minutes a night and averaging 8.1 points and 5.1 assists a night. In Milwaukee, he was buried behind Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings and played just 18.4 minutes in 39 games.

``It’s good here and it’s been a while for me,’’ Udrih said of being allowed to close games in Orlando. ``I came to Milwaukee after the best year of my career (13.7 ppg. in 2010-11 in Sacramento) and basically (the Bucks) just treated me as a backup point guard. And I think I think I’m a back-up point guard who can play the shooting guard, too. I always wanted to explain to them that I never came in saying I needed 35 minutes. I told them to just give me between 22 and 25 minutes in the rotation so I can do what I was doing in Sacramento. Now, I’m here (in Orlando), I’m happy to be here and coach (Jacque Vaughn) has confidence in me. That gives me the confidence back that I want and I feel I’ll only start playing better and better.’’

ETC: Vaughn loved the way that second-year Magic forward Tobias Harris closed out Friday’s win against Washington with a big jumper and three game-sealing free throws. He said that Harris is ready to become a closer because he has the kind of tough personality that is uncommon in young players. Said Vaughn: ``You see his will to try and drive guys, whether it’s bringing them together at the free throw line or talking to them during timeouts. You don’t see that often from a 20-year-old, and that makes it impressive. He’s definitely going to grow. You want respect in this league among your peers and the way that he is playing and the way he approaches games and practice he’s gaining respect awfully quickly.’’ … Vucevic entered Saturday’s game tied for third in the NBA in rebounding at 11.5 boards a game. The rebounding title is probably out of his reach with former Magic center Dwight Howard leading the way at 12.6 rebounds a game. … The Magic will be off on Sunday following the final back-to-back set of games of the season. Orlando faces the Rockets in Houston on Monday night.

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