Denton's Notebook: Wednesday, March 20

By John Denton
March 20, 2013

NEW YORK – With Carmelo Anthony returning to action Wednesday night for the New York Knicks, it meant that Orlando Magic rookie Maurice Harkless would have another all-star-sized challenge on his hands.

Considering the cavalcade of stars that Harkless has checked of late, it’s something that become almost old-hat to the Magic’s long-armed rookie.

Over the past three weeks, Harkless has been asked to guard Miami’s LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Indiana’s Paul George (twice) and now Anthony. Of that list, only Nash wasn’t on the all-star team this season and three of those players (Durant, Anthony and James) are in the top four in the league in scoring.

``It’s tough because night-in and night-out you are guarding one of the best players on the floor,’’ Harkless said. ``It’s a challenge that I have to accept every night. It’s difficult and I’m just trying to do the best that I can.

``In my opinion the (small forward) position is the hardest position in the league to guard,’’ Harkless continued. ``Every night you are guarding an all-star or someone who was as an all-star, so it’s tough on me.’’

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said that Harkless will be better in the future for having gone through the parade of all-stars. Harkless has made tremendous strides as a player in recent weeks, and Vaughn feels that the added pressure on the defensive end has forced him to lock in mentally even more.

``It’s great for him because he’ll be able to use these experiences and grow from them,’’ Vaughn said. ``We’ll continue to challenge him and ask him to guard different people. (Versus the Knicks), he might guard four different people because of his versatility. And his ability to challenge himself to do that is good for our team.’’

STREAK SNAPPED: Nikola Vucevic came into Wednesday night as the only Magic player to appear in every game, playing in each of the first 68 games this season.

But the second-year center’s streak ended on Wednesday in New York when he was unable to play because of an undisclosed illness. Vucevic took the team’s early bus to Madison Square and headed to the court not long after for some shooting practice. But Vucevic soon left the court and returned to the locker room because he wasn’t feeling well.

Vucevic played 31 minutes a night earlier in Indiana, scoring nine points and grabbing 11 rebounds. He just missed his 38th double-double of the season. He ranks fourth in the NBA in rebounding at 11.5 boards per game.

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND: Because they were playing on the second night of a back-to-back set of games, the Magic were in New York on Wednesday for less than 24 hours. But it still allowed for a happy homecoming for three Magic players with New York ties.

Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn grew up just minutes from one another in Jamaica, Queens, while Tobias Harris is a Long Island native and Doron Lamb grew up seven train stops from Madison Square Garden. Harkless stayed in the city to attend St. John’s, while Harris went off to Tennessee, O’Quinn spent four seasons at Norfolk State and Lamb played for Kentucky.

Growing up in the shadows of Manhattan, the dreams of all three were to play games at Madison Square Garden as NBA players. Harris, who played in New York during his rookie season with Milwaukee, came back to NYC with the Bucks on Feb. 1, but he did not play in the game.

Harkless and O’Quinn got to live out that dream in Jan. 30 when the Magic played the Knicks in New York for the first time. The rookie duo also played twice in Brooklyn this season at the new Barclay’s Center. O’Quinn said that his excitement level for playing in Madison Square Garden will always be extremely high.

``It’ll be just as fun for me as it was the first time,’’ said O’Quinn, who had four points and three rebounds in eight minutes on Jan. 30. ``This time I hope we come out with the win in front of my family, but stepping into that building will still be amazing. The games when your dad says, `We’ve got tickets for a Knicks game,’ those are the days that you are ready as soon as school ends and you want to run out of the door. That just goes to show the level of excitement there is for me to play there.’’

ETC: Vaughn didn’t particularly want to discuss getting thrown out of Tuesday’s game – the first two technical fouls and subsequent ejection of his young coaching career. Said Vaughn, who was incensed by a double-technical foul call when Magic center Kyle O’Quinn was wrapped up by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert: ``I’ve made it to (Wednesday) without losing any more money and I’m not going to oblige (a question about the topic) and lose any more money.’’ Asked if he received an angry call from his wife about forfeiting fine money that will go to the NBA’s league office, Vaughn said: ``Unfortunately yes.’’ … New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing, who ended his playing career with the Magic and spent the past five years as an assistant coach for Orlando, worked his first game as a postgame analyst for MSG Network on Wednesday night. The Knicks’ all-time leader in points scored will work one other game – March 31 when the Knicks face Boston – and he could be in line do some television work in the playoffs. Ewing’s No. 33 hangs in the rafters at Madison Square Garden and each time he returned with the Magic in recent years he was given a raucous standing ovation by Knicks’ fans. … The Magic are back at the Amway Center on Friday to host the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were 117-104 winners against Orlando last Friday. In that game, the Magic fell behind by as much as 27 points before storming back to within three points of the lead. However, OKC was able to hold on down the stretch for the victory.

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