Denton's Notebook: Sunday, Dec. 9


By John Denton
December 9, 2012

PHOENIX – Even though Maurice Harkless’ minutes are closely monitored and he rarely, if ever, gets plays called for him, Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn likes having the rookie forward in the starting rotation and sees progress.

Harkless, whom the Magic acquired in August in a trade, made his 10th start of the season on Sunday night in Phoenix. He was pushed into the lineup because Hedo Turkoglu (broken left hand) got hurt in the opener and Al Harrington (offseason knee surgery) has been unable to play so far.

Harkless, who left St. John’s after just one collegiate season, has averaged just 4.0 points and 3.7 rebounds, but that comes with a caveat. He’s playing just 19.9 minutes a game as a starter – easily the lowest among the Magic starters. Harkless usually plays the first 4-6 minutes of each half and then is used in spot duty the rest of the game.

``I think he’s picking up on concepts instead of thinking so much about what he’s supposed to be doing,’’ Vaughn said of Harkless. ``It’s coming a little more natural to him now, especially on the defensive end, which is nice to see. Offensively, he’s still trying to get into a comfort zone of knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot. But he can still rebound and run the floor, those things you can do consistently every game.’’

Harkless’ best game of the season came last month when he blocked four shots against the New York Knicks, with three of them coming while guarding Carmelo Anthony. Harkless said he’s much more comfortable out on the floor than he was when he first moved into the starting lineup. And he’s hoping he remains a starter for the foreseeable future.

``I’m feeling a lot more comfortable now offensively and defensively,’’ Harkless said. ``Any player wants to start. It’s definitely a good opportunity for me.’’

ROOKIES ON THE ROAD: For Magic rookies Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn, DeQuan Jones and Harkless, the Magic’s nine-day, five-game road trip was their first extended trip of their first season in the NBA. And for O’Quinn and Harkless, at least, they found out that the grind of life on the road is no joke.

Because NBA teams usually fly right after games, the roadtrip meant having three nights where the team didn’t arrive at its hotel until 2-3 a.m. The Magic have played in the Pacific time zone three times and in the Mountain time zone twice. And for nine days, the team has had to live in hotels and out of suitcases. It’s enough to makes things somewhat difficult for rookies not used to that schedule.

``I’m tired and it’s tough. You have to get as much sleep as you can because it’s exhausting playing every other day, practicing and traveling so much,’’ Harkless said. ``I’m always going to the wrong room because I’m thinking I’m in the (previous) hotel. I’m always knocking on the wrong door or losing my keys.’’

O’Quinn said that while he’s often confused at the hotel much the same way that Harkless is, he will always remember this roadtrip for being his first chance to gain significant playing time with the Magic’s core group. He had six points, two rebounds and two blocks against the Lakers and he grabbed two rebounds in Friday’s game in Sacramento.

``It’s been great to be out there with the regular rotation guys,’’ O’Quinn said. ``It was a great opportunity and it just goes to show that coach is putting a little trust in me.’’

FIGHT FANS: As one of the Magic’s team captains and a fight fan, veteran point guard Jameer Nelson arranged for the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight to be shown at the team hotel in Phoenix Saturday night. Nelson arranged to have a big-screen television set up and he secured a ball room for an event that allowed the team to watch the fight and also do some bonding while on the road.

While Nelson, who spars in the offseason to stay in shape, picked Pacquiao to win, it was Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis who sided with Marquez. And when Marquez knocked Pacquiao out cold in the sixth round, Davis celebrated with glee. On Sunday, he reveled in being one of the few Magic players – Mexican-born Gustavo Ayon was the other – to pick Marquez to win in an upset.

``I had a hunch that Marquez was going to win because the (previous three) fights were just too close,’’ Davis said. ``He had so much to fight for. Pacquiao is a really great fighter and he’s won some great battles, but I just felt like it was Marquez’s turn.’’

ETC: Vaughn said he is eager to get back to Orlando and check on the status of Turkoglu and Harrington. Turkoglu, who broke a bone in the outside of his left hand, hasn’t played in five weeks. He was originally projected to miss four-to-six weeks, but suffered a setback early in the process when there was movement in the screws and plate that was put in his hand. Harrington needed three procedures on his knee when he contracted a Staph infection following an arthroscopic surgery last spring. The Magic originally projected that Harrington could return by the middle of December and the hope is that he may be back on the floor with the team in the next two weeks. … The Magic entered Sunday’s game 0-9 when they make four or fewer 3-pointers and 7-3 when they make at least five in a game. But Vaughn feels like it is turnovers – and not 3-point shooting – that is the bigger barometer in determining the Magic’s success. After all, Orlando averaged 10 turnovers in wins against the Lakers and Warriors and 16 in losses to the Jazz and Kings. … The Magic will use Monday to attempt to recover from their long road trip with a much-needed day off. The team will return to the practice court on Tuesday and then host the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at the Amway Center. The Magic also play at home on Friday when they face the Golden State Warriors.

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