Denton's Notebook: Sunday, Oct. 24

By John Denton
October 24, 2012

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – With the thumb injury to Gustavo Ayon that will keep him out of action for the next two weeks, it’s looking more and more like Nik Vucevic will be the Orlando Magic’s starting center next week when the regular season begins.

But even before Ayon’s injury, Vucevic appeared to be ahead in the race to start at center because of his solid play this preseason and his willingness to become more physical inside.

Through his first five games of the preseason, Vucevic has led the Magic in rebounding (7.6 boards a game), while also averaging 7.2 points a game. The rebounding is significant because adjusted over 48 minutes and the 7-foot, 240-pound center would be averaging 20 boards a night.

Vucevic, a second-year NBA player who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday, knows his ticket to more playing time is to learn to be more of a physical presence inside. Vucevic isn’t happy about Ayon’s injury, but he is eager to take advantage of the chance to play more minutes.

``You don’t ever want to see another guy hurt for you to play more minutes. I don’t look at it like that at all. Hopefully he recovers fast and comes back to the team real soon,’’ Vucevic said. ``That’s been my main focus, to play physical and play hard. That’s not the style that I have always played since I was little, so I am still working on it. I think I’m doing a pretty good job.’’

Vucevic, acquired from Philadelphia in August, is happy that he’s made a favorable impression on head coach Jacque Vaughn and his new teammates. A possible chance to open the season as the Magic’s starting center would be an honor, he said.

``It’s satisfying because (starting gives) you get a chance to play. Starting means that the work you did in the offseason is paying off,’’ Vucevic said. ``In training camp I feel like I have shown the coaches that I can play. I’m just happy to get a chance to play and I’m going to take advantage of it.’’

RETURN OF ISH: Reserve point guard Ish Smith quickly became a fan favorite last season because of his fearlessness when driving down the lane and his hustle on defense.

Now, Smith has given Magic fans another reason to admire him by working extremely hard to return from shoulder surgery two weeks ahead of schedule.

Smith suffered a complete dislocation of his left shoulder and a torn labrum while playing a pick-up basketball game in Houston in July. The Magic liked him so much from his time with the team last season that they still signed him to a two-year deal to backup Jameer Nelson.

Smith has worked for weeks to build up the strength in his shoulder. He was originally projected to be out until mid-November, but he made the trip to Memphis with the Magic on Wednesday and could make his preseason debut on Friday against the Houston Rockets at the Amway Center.

Overcoming the pain of the shoulder injury, and doing so well ahead of schedule, has given Smith the feeling that he can accomplish anything this season.

``It was a labrum tear and the great Dr. (Craig) Mintzer went in there and stitched it up. It was tight and I had it in a sling for like four weeks and then I stretched it for four weeks and now it’s just about strengthening it back up,’’ Smith said. ``It was painful and it took us about 30 minutes to pop it back (into joint). It was painful and that’s why I say that I can go through anything right now. That’s probably the most pain I’ve ever been through.’’

MORE PREPARATION: For the first time this preseason, the Magic mixed in some advanced scouting and film work before Wednesday’s game against Memphis to simulate the preparation work of a regular season game.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn did so to instruct the veteran players of his style of preparation and also to teach the younger players about film study leading up to games. Vaughn plans to use a similar strategy in Friday’s preseason finale against the Houston Rockets to simulate the feel of a regular-season game.

The Magic open the season on Nov. 2 at home against the Denver Nuggets. Vaughn divvies up the scouting of opponents to his assistant coaches and they make presentations to the team about the foe and help to formulate the game plan.

``The coaches have the responsibility of presenting the game plan to the guys and actually having a scout team walk through some plays,’’ Vaughn said. ``It’s just more actual game-like, regular-season preparation.’’

ETC: Former Magic great Nick Anderson, the first player ever drafted in team history, celebrated the birth of twins on Wednesday. Myles Blake Anderson was born at 12:18 p.m. and is 5 pounds, 7 oz and 19 inches long, while Morgan Breyana Anderson was born at 12:19 p.m. and is 4 pounds, 5 ounces and 17.5 inches long. … A major motivation for Arron Afflalo to get fully healthy prior to the start of the regular season is the team that the Magic face in the opener – the Denver Nuggets. Afflalo spent the past three years in Denver prior to being traded to Orlando in August. ``Oh, I know who we’re playing on opening night,’’ Afflalo said with a chuckle. Afflalo made his Magic debut on Wednesday night in Memphis after missing the first six preseason games because of a strained left hamstring. … Vaughn said the most impressive thing he’s seen this preseason from rookie Andrew Nicholson is his patience in the post. Said Vaughn: ``He just has such good pace down there and doesn’t rush things. I think that’s really going to benefit him.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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