Magic Balanced in Win Over Bobcats

Jameer Nelson

By John Denton
Dec. 11, 2013

CHARLOTTE – The Orlando Magic travelled 4,107 miles of a 4,632-mile trip that covered six cities and 11 days, and they finally found the right combination on Wednesday night to salvage the marathon jaunt with a feel-good victory.

Orlando used the stirring return of center Nikola Vucevic, a strong finish from veteran point guard Jameer Nelson and some gritty defense on Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson to snap a six-game losing streak. Orlando placed a season-high seven players in double figures – and got a dazzling double-double from Vucevic – in Wednesday’s 92-83 defeat of the Charlotte Bobcats.

``Human nature, it would have been easy to let go of this game and want to just get home,’’ Nelson said. ``I’m happy it’s the last day of this trip because I want to see my family. The most important thing in my life is my family and I’ve been thinking about them all day, every day. But you’ve got to show resolve and be resilient and we did that.’’

The victory allowed Orlando (7-15) to win on the road for the second time this season. Nelson sealed the victory with a clutch 3-pointer with 1:06 remaining, a basket that caused Vucevic to pump his fist in delight.

The night mostly belonged to Vucevic, the 7-footer who returned after missing the previous four games with a sprained left ankle. He got the Magic off to a strong start with a stellar first half and finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds.

With Vucevic back, Orlando outrebounded Charlotte (10-12) 52-41 and grabbed 14 offensive boards. In the previous four games with Vucevic out, the Magic had been outrebounded by 70 boards – the largest four-game rebounding deficit in the 25-year history of the franchise.

Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis had 17 points and 12 rebounds and two big shots at the ends of the second and third quarters. Arron Afflalo and Nelson shook off slow starts to finish with 16 and 17 points respectively.

``We needed this, big-time,’’ Davis said. ``We’re a good team, but we’ve all just got to be healthy. Look at what Nik did out there today and we’ve been missing that. He loosens things up for me, definitely. Him being a factor out there people have to guard him and he’s going to get rebounds. And Jameer played great hitting big shots. That’s our team – minutes Tobias (Harris).’’

Victor Oladipo, E’Twaun Moore and Andrew Nicholson added 10 points each for the Magic.

``To have seven guys in double figures and to give the effort on the other end of the floor was pretty nice to see,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said of Orlando’s defense. ``We talk about not skipping steps and that’s what this thing is about for us. You come with an approach of fighting and give what you have that day. It was good to see our guys rally around each other.’’

Wednesday’s game finally brought an end to the longest road trip in Magic history. The six-game trip over all or part of 12 days took the Magic to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Houston, Memphis and Charlotte. The Magic flew the final 525 miles home on Wednesday to complete the trip.

Orlando will be back in action on Friday at the Amway Center when it hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers at 7 p.m. It will be the Magic’s first home game since Nov. 29.

The Magic got Vucevic back after he had missed the past four games with a sprained left ankle. The 7-footer sprained his ankle last Monday in Washington when he accidentally stepped on the foot of a courtside cameraman. He made it through a personal workout on Tuesday on the Magic’s day off and then went through shoot-around with the team on Wednesday morning.

``I’m glad I’m back so that I could help my team. In the first half I felt pretty good, but in the second half my legs got kind of tired. But I felt good for the most part,’’ Vucevic said. ``This was a good win for us, especially being on this road trip, It would have been easy to give in and think about going home. But we stuck together, which is not easy on a six-game trip. The game wasn’t pretty maybe, but we grinded it out and won it on the defensive end.’’

Charlotte’s Walker and Henderson suffered through miserable shooting nights. Walker made just four of 18 shots for 10 points, while Henderson made only three of 14 shots for 12 points.

Davis ended the third quarter much the same way as he did the second quarter by hitting a deep jumper from the corner. Whereas the shot at the first-half horn came with his foot on the 3-point stripe, Davis buried his second 3-pointer of the season at the end of the third period to put Orlando up 67-62. The Magic made four 3-pointers in the third quarter after missing their first nine tries of the game.

``Every time I shot that (outside jumper) there were like two seconds left on the clock. I learned that’s the trick because they pack down and don’t think I can shoot that shot,’’ Davis said. ``They have to pass it to me because I’m so wide open.’’

Much of the Magic’s success in the first three quarters centered around their defense. Walker averaged 28.8 points in four games against the Magic last season, but he missed his first eight shots and didn’t have a field goal until midway through the third period. Henderson averaged 22.8 points a game against the Magic last season, but he missed eight of his first nine shots.

Said Vaughn: ``At the end of the day defense is about taking that personal challenge on. It was a lot about individual pride tonight and it was good to see. That was a game that I’ve seen in my career where a team at the end of a road trip won’t fight. With our team, there was no consideration of that. Our team came to get a win tonight.’’

Vucevic came into the game averaging 10.9 rebounds a game, and he had eclipsed that mark with 11 boards by the 3-minute mark of the second quarter. He seemed to be making up for lost time by grabbing eight of Orlando’s first nine rebounds. He had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the first half against Charlotte’s smallish frontline.

During the four games that Vucevic missed because of his sore ankle, Orlando was outrebounded 213-143 for the 70-board deficiency. Also, they shot 41.8 percent with him out as opposed to 44.1 percent as a team in the first 17 games of the season.

How big of an impact does Vucevic have being in the Magic lineup? Charlotte came into Wednesday’s game first in the NBA in fewest offensive rebounds allowed a game (9.33). With Vucevic leading the way, Orlando had 10 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points in the first two quarters.

``I’m the biggest guy on this team and my job is to protect the paint and rebound. Rebounding is some of the best skill that I have and I’ve just got to keep doing it every game,’’ said Vucevic, who boosted his rebounding average to 11.1 a game. ``It was tough not being on the court and not being able to help my team. But I’m glad that I’m back now.’’

Davis buried a corner jumper at the first-half buzzer to give the Magic a 43-42 advantage at intermission. The shot allowed the Magic to grab a lead despite a shaky first half in which they shot just 38 percent from the floor, missed all eight of their 3-point tries and turned the ball over 10 times.

Asked if Davis might become a consistent 3-point shooter now, Vucevic said: ``I’d like him to just stick to the paint. He made two big ones, but it’s better for us if he sticks to the paint.’’

With Afflalo (three of 11 in first half) and Nelson (zero of six in the first half) struggling, E’Twaun Moore gave the Magic a nice lift off the bench. He had 10 first-half points by getting into the lane several times to create some much-needed offense for the Magic.

Vaughn said his Magic can take great pride in fighting through the fatigue of a long road trip and hanging tough throughout Wednesday’s second half. Charlotte got to within 77-73 and 83-79 late in the fourth quarter, but the resilient Magic had an answer each time.

``Knowing how hard it is to win in this league, that was impressive for us to close the game like that,’’ Nelson said. ``It’s frustrating losing. We definitely needed a game like this where we played well offensively and we were there for one another defensively. We talked more and played more as a team.’’