Denton's Notebook: Sunday, April 7

By John Denton
April 7, 2013

CLEVELAND – The Orlando Magic breathed a collective sigh of relief on Sunday when blossoming rookie Maurice Harkless showed no lingering effects from a knee injury suffered on Friday night against the Chicago Bulls.

Harkless went through the team’s Sunday morning practice and he was in the starting lineup at small forward against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Harkless played just eight minutes on Friday – which was odd considering that he had played at least 40 minutes in the previous seven games. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said he was unsure how the rookie injured his knee, but when he saw Harkless limp through a stretch of game action, he wasted no time getting him out of the game as a precaution.

``The play hadn’t even started. We came out of timeout and I looked over at him and he was fixing him knee pad. Then, the play started and he began to limp a little bit, so we pulled him out right after that,’’ Vaughn said.

Harkless, 19, has dramatically picked up his play of late to become one of the Magic’s most promising rookie players in years. His scoring average his climbed each of the past three months, going from 11.5 in Febraury, 13.1 ppg. in March and 15.3 ppg. in April. He’s led the team in scoring four times this season and led it in rebounding four times. He had a career-best 28 points in Houston this past Wednesday night.

FANBASE FOLLOWING: Magic rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson has no direct ties to the Cleveland, other than the face that he played Cleveland State while at St. Bonaventure in college.

But because Cleveland is the closest city to Nicholson’s college campus, a drove of fans usually make the two hour drive along Lake Erie to show their support for the former St. Bonaventure star.

Nicholson spent about 10 minutes before Sunday’s game in Cleveland posing for pictures and signing autographs for fans from the school in Western New York. A couple of dozen of the fans were dressed in Magic blue and many of them were decked out in Nicholson’s No. 44.

``It’s pretty neat to have them here,’’ said Nicholson, who had one of his best games of the season in Cleveland in February. ``It’s great to know that I still have a fan base there even thought I don’t go to school there anymore.’’

PUTTING IN EXTRA WORK: Because of the Magic’s rash of injuries, second-year forward Tobias Harris has had to play 40, 40, 41 and 45 minutes over the past four games. The added minutes and the fatigue could explain when he his shooting has hit the skids somewhat of late.

Harris scored 29 points last week at Charlotte and followed it up with a career-best 30 points against Washington last Friday. But he struggled mightily in the first four games of the road trip, failing to score more than 18 points in any of the games. Harris has increasingly become the target of opposing defenses with tighter on-ball coverage and more physical play. In the first four games of the trip, Harris made just 21 of 71 shots (29.5 percent). In those games, he drew ace defenders Josh Smith, Stephen Jackson and Luol Deng.

``That’s a big part of his nature and a reason why he’s had success,’’ Vaughn said of Harris putting in extra shooting work between games to combat his slump. ``I can probably help him by not playing him 12 minutes straight over and over again, but unfortunately because of the situation (with injuries) I’ve had to do that. Mentally he’s been asked to do a lot. But overall we’ve been pleased with him. We’ve looked at his shot selection and they have been good shots.’’

ETC: Despite their starting lineup being in flux most of the season, the Magic have consistently moved the ball well to set up scoring opportunities for others. Orlando entered Sunday’s game ranked 10th in the NBA in assists as 22.9 per game. They have had 30 assists in a game 10 times this season, winning five of those games. Orlando’s best passing game of the season was a 34-assists effort in Los Angeles in December, a game in which it had a franchise-record 13 assists in the fourth quarter alone. … Vaughn said he would be able to learn a lot about the mental toughness and fortitude of his team going into Sunday’s game, which was the final one of the five-game, 10-day road trip. Said Vaughn: ``The most important thing is this is the end of a road trip and how mentally prepared are you to play and where’s your psyche going into the game? Are you enthused about going home back to Orlando or are you enthused about playing the game? It’s tough because mentally you want to give in. You’ve been away from your family and been away from your bed and you enjoy those things. But you have a profession and a job to do, so you have to hone in and do your job.’’ … The Magic ended their longest road trip of the season on Sunday and up next are three home games: Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, Saturday versus the Boston Celtics and Monday against the Chicago Bulls. The Magic close the regular season on April 17 in Miami.

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