Denton's Notebook: Sunday, March 10

By John Denton
March 8, 2013

ORLANDO -- Sunday’s game between Orlando and Philadelphia featured two of the leading candidates for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award – Magic center Nikola Vucevic and 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday.

The two players were teammates last season in Philadelphia, but were split up this summer following a four-team, 12-player trade that involved the Magic and 76ers. And they both have shown dramatic improvement to get into the hunt for the Most Improved award.

Philadelphia coach Doug Collins, who worked with Vucevic last season while with the Sixers, made a strong case for the Magic center to win the league’s Most Improved Player award.

Vucevic, a second-year pro, ranks first in the NBA in rebounding improvement from last season to this season (6.5 rpg.) and third in scoring improvement (6.8 ppg.). Vucevic, who playing only sparingly during his rookie season with the Sixers, came into Sunday’s game ranked second in total rebounds (712), third in double-doubles (34) and fifth in rebounding average (11.3 rpg.). He has rebound games of 29 (a franchise record) and 21 against the Miami Heat and 19 two weeks ago against the 76ers.

``Nik, if he stays healthy, he’s going to put up double-doubles for a long time for this franchise,’’ Collins said. ``One thing about Nik is that he is very consistent. That’s one thing that you want in a player. Every night you know what you are going to get from him. I’m really proud of him. If you charted him in college, every year he got better and I think he’s going to continue to do the same thing as a NBA player. The big thing is just to stay healthy. He was playing great for us last year and the Miami game on the road he hurt his knee and it set him back a long time. I don’t think Nik had ever had an injury before and I think it spooked him a little bit. It took him a little time to bounce back from that.’’

Holiday ranks sixth in the NBA in scoring improvement from last season to this season, going from 13.5 points per game last year to 18.8 points per game this season. The improvement allowed Holliday to become a first-time all-star this season.

Houston’s James Harden has made the biggest jump in his scoring average, going up 9.6 points. Houston’s Omer Asik is second in both scoring and rebounding improvement.

POINT GUARD ROTATION: One of the few positives from Friday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers was the play of point guards Jameer Nelson, Beno Udrich and E’Twauan Moore. Udrih had seven assists from his reserve role, while Nelson chipped in another six assists on a night when points were hard to come by for the Magic.

The addition of Udrih, who was acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks three weeks ago, has allowed Magic coach Jacque Vaughn to move Moore to his natural position of shooting guard. Vaughn has been delighted with the options that the trade has presented him because Udrih is more than capable of running a team and having the three guards allows the Magic to play small against some opposing lineups.

``Beno and E’Twaun in the game at the same time gives us a different dynamic,’’ Vaughn said. ``I’ve been able to play E’Twaun more at (shooting guard). And having two guards on the floor keeps us from getting pressed and it allows us to get the ball up the floor with pace.’’

ETC: Collins said he fell in love with Vucevic’s game from the first time he saw him play in person at the NBA’s Pre-Draft Camp in 2011. Said Collins: ``I’ve loved Nik since I saw him in Chicago. I saw him at the draft camp and said, `That’s my guy.’ He’s skilled, big, strong, has a good feel for the game and he’s a great kid,’’ Collins said. ``I love Nik. When he got minutes for us last year he performed well. It was just a matter of time. When you give somebody minutes and they get a chance to play … he’s hanging around that lane, he’s rebounding the ball, he’s a good mid-range shooter and he’s actually got 3-point range.’’ … Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said he will never be the type to campaign for players for awards. He said not only does he not have a vote for the award, but he doesn’t think voters will listen to his opinions. Said Vaughn: ``I won’t say never, but for the most part, the campaigning (for awards) is something that I won’t do and I’ll let the guy’s play speak for whatever accolades they receive along the way. Nik has been unbelievable for us. That’s up to periphery people to decide whether he has been the most improved player.’’ … The Magic will host the Los Angeles Lakers and former Orlando center Dwight Howard on Tuesday in one of the most anticipated games of the season. Howard spent his first eight seasons in Orlando, leading the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and the Magic’s all-time leader in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots forced his way out of Orlando last summer, eventually settling on the Lakers after his first choice, the Brooklyn Nets, fell through.

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