Denton's Notebook: Sunday, Jan. 20

By John Denton
January 20, 2013

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic still vividly remembers the day he saw basketball greatness for one of the first times in his life, and it ultimately inspired him to want to play basketball professionally in the NBA. It was the 2005 EuroBasket final in Belgrade, Serbia, when Vucevic – a 15-year-old approaching 7-foot at the time – got to watch Dirk Nowitzki play in person for the first time. Nowitzki’s German national team was upset that day by Greece, but Nowitzki was named the tournament MVP.

Nowitzki went on to become a first-round NBA pick in 1998, and has become one of the most successful European players in NBA history while playing for the Dallas Mavericks. He became a NBA champion in 2011 and was the league’s MVP in 2007. His success gave Vucevic – a native of Montenegro – hope that he too someday could become a star in the NBA.

``A lot of guys look up to him because he’s one of the most, if not the most, successful Europeans to ever play in the NBA,’’ Vucevic said.

Like Nowitzki, but to a much lesser degree because he is still in the infancy of his career, Vucevic is a 7-footer with 20-foot shooting range, stellar footwork and off-the-charts basketball smarts. He has been quite a find for the Magic while averaging 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds in just his second NBA season.

He said much of his love for basketball can be traced back to the seeing Nowitzki that first time in 2005 and following his star-studded career in the NBA.

``He actually was my favorite player growing up for a while,’’ Vucevic said. ``I really enjoyed watching him. The way he plays, I think he’s the only one that plays that way. I think it’s impossible to stop him. (When) he gets it going, you can’t really stop him because of the way he plays. I look up to him a lot.’’

LATE-GAME DECISIONS: Because he has a team sans a true superstar player and one that usually relies on one another to score, Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn said it will vary from game-to-game who he turns to at the end of games in must-score situations.

Vaughn drew up a winner last Saturday in Los Angeles when J.J. Redick – a third option on a play – took an in-bounds pass, shook off Matt Barnes with a pump-fake and hit a game-winning 3-pointer. Afterward, Redick lauded Vaughn for drawing up a play with numerous options against a Clippers defense that took away some of the possibilities.

The Magic weren’t so fortunate on Friday night when, trailing by four points, Arron Afflalo drove into the lane but had his shot attempt stuffed by Charlotte center Brendan Haywood. Vaughn drew up the play for Afflalo because of a variety of factors.

``For that (Charlotte) game, there was a smaller guy – Ramon Sessions – was on Arron, so in that situation it was me reading who was guarding who and what we needed,’’ Vaughn said. ``I thought it was an opportunity to get a quick two and Arron can get to the basket. A lot of time (the decision comes down to) matchups, what we need and time and score. And it could be who is feeling it.’’

Vaughn said he likes to draw up plays with potential looks for multiple players. ``That is a characteristic of my draw-ups – I like to give guys options in case the first one is taken away,’’ he added.

ETC: While the Magic were none too pleased about losing on Friday to lowly Charlotte, veteran point guard Jameer Nelson was confident that the squad will bounce back because of the resiliency it has shown all season. Said Nelson: ``So far (the spirit) has been good because we haven’t separated. It’s easy to separate when you are going through a 10-game losing streak or you lose to a team you think you should beat, but we haven’t done that. So that’s the positive right now and we’re continuing to stay a group and keep playing as hard as we’re playing.’’ … For Magic small forward DeQuan Jones, his rookie season in the NBA has been all about defying the odds. He wasn’t drafted and came to Magic camp as a non-roster invitee, but made the team. And even though he was only a part-time starter while playing collegiately at the University of Miami, Jones started his 13th game of the season on Sunday night against Dallas. Said Vaughn of his resilient rookie: ``It’s just his want to get better. That’s what it boils down to. He hasn’t accepted everyone else’s terms, whether it was that he wasn’t going to play all 40 minutes or Miami or not make our (Magic) team. He’s put in the work, he continues to learn and get better and that’s been a great approach for him.’’ … The Magic will practice on Monday before facing the Pistons in suburban Detroit on Tuesday night. Orlando is back at the Amway Center Thursday (vs. Toronto) and Sunday (vs. Detroit) before embarking on a five-game, eight-day roadtrip.

ORLANDOMAGIC.COM FEATURES: Redick Talks Career Future | Vucevic Deserves Trip to AS Weekend | Big Accomplishment for Nelson

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