Magic Miss Vucevic's Size in Loss to Pelicans

Jameer Nelson

By John Denton
Jan. 26, 2014

NEW ORLEANS – Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic was back with his teammates for the first time in nearly three weeks on Sunday and from his seat on the bench he had a good look at exactly what his team lacked.

More than at any point over the past 11 games that Vucevic has missed because of a concussion, the Magic missed the 7-footer’s size at the rim. And most importantly, they missed his knack for gobbling up rebounds in bunches and keeping foes off the glass.

Orlando played well both offensively and defensively to win on Sunday night, but it could never quite get over the hump against budding star Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. The Magic’s 48-32 deficit on the glass was the single biggest factor in a frustrating 100-92 loss at New Orleans Arena.

``Second-chance points, that was the name of the game for us,’’ said Magic forward Tobias Harris, who had 17 points and nine rebounds. ``That’s just as a team needing to have a collective effort to be focused on that (rebounding). … Every game that we play you can see that we need (Vucevic) because he’s a big part of our team. He’s one of the tallest guys we have, but Glen (Davis) tried to do a good job of guarding Anthony Davis. But it has to be a collective effort for us.’’

Orlando (12-33) got within three points of the lead with 5 minutes to play and within four points of the Pelicans (18-25) five different times in the second half. But the Magic could get no closer when they continuously gave up multiple looks to New Orleans. The Pelicans had 14 second-chance points in the game, compared to just two from the Magic.

Without Vucevic, the Magic are trying to get by with Davis and reserve Kyle O’Quinn at center. That worked recently in wins against the smallish Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, but Davis exposed the Magic’s lack of rebounding on Sunday.

``It’s tough because you play great defense for 18-to-22 seconds and then they have a giant down there who grabs the ball and just goes back up and dunks it,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``We’re asking Glen to do a lot of things and he’s doing a great job for us, but we have to go back and help him. We have to help him on the boards and help him with those guys.’’

Davis, the No. 1 pick from two years ago and a potential all-star this season, dominated the Magic on the inside with his length advantage. He had 22 points, a career-best 19 rebounds and seven game-altering blocked shots. His thunderous one-handed dunk – one in which he was hit by Victor Oladipo and he finished over Davis – will undoubtedly make the rounds on the highlight shows.

``He’s athletic and he’s long and he’s active,’’ said O’Quinn, who had four rebounds in 17 minutes. ``We’ve slowed him down on the offensive glass before, but tonight he had his way with it.’’

Orlando shot a solid 46.8 percent from the floor and got to the free throw line 19 times (with 17 makes), but turnovers were another negative. The Magic booted the ball away 17 times, leading to 30 points for the injury-ravaged Pelicans.

``Three areas that hurt us were turning the ball over, letting them get to the free throw line and offensive rebounds,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``It’s extremely tough (keeping Davis off the glass) but everyone has to be involved and help us out.’’

Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 25 points, but he had six turnovers. Oladipo had 18 points and five steals – two of which he used to outrace the defense for dunks. Nelson chipped in 15 points and eight assists, while Harris – who was coming off a 28-point, 20-rebound effort against the Los Angeles Lakers – gamely went at Davis and made seven of 14 shots.

Sunday’s game was the start of a three-game road trip for the Magic. Orlando plays in suburban Detroit on Tuesday and then in Toronto on Wednesday. The Magic are back at the Amway Center on Friday to host the Milwaukee Bucks before leaving on another road trip to Boston and Indiana.

The Magic were without Vucevic for an 11th straight game because of a concussion. But the 7-footer has rejoined the team on the road trip and the hope is that he will soon be back on the floor. Orlando is 10-18 this season with Vucevic healthy, but just 2-16 in the games that he’s missed. Vucevic is averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds with 16 double-doubles.

Orlando finished the third period with a flurry to get within 75-69 by the start of the fourth. A 3-pointer from Afflalo and two layups by Nelson – both of them things of beauty to avoid Davis’ long-armed reach – to trim the deficit.

Orlando had to play from behind much of the third quarter because of their struggles on the glass. The Pelicans had seven offensive rebounds in the third quarter alone, resulting in six second-chance points.

The night started well enough for the Magic, who moved the ball well in the early going and led by three in the opening minutes. But things quickly fell apart as Davis began asserting himself on both ends of the floor, allowing the Pelicans to take a 54-44 halftime lead.

Davis dominated the game in several phases early on with 10 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. The NBA’s shot-block leader swatted two 3-pointers early on and had his three-block average by the first quarter.

Nelson and Afflalo scored eight and 10 first-half points, but Nelson’s production came only after he had missed his first four shots. Orlando trailed by as many as 16 points late in the first half, but it rallied in the closing minutes of the first half when Davis went to the bench with foul trouble. A 3-pointer and a floater in the lane by Nelson and a traditional three-point play by Davis – a bucket that came after Vaughn stopped a sequence to call for a specific play – allowed Orlando to get with 10 by halftime.

Vaughn said it will be up to his team to correct the rebounding issues and the turnover problems before Wednesday’s game against Detroit, one of the NBA’s best rebounding teams with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

``Overall, the majority of (New Orleans’) points came from things that we can handle ourselves,’’ Vaughn said. ``Those three things (offensive rebounds, turnovers and opponents free throws) all can be handled by ourselves.’’