Denton: Vucevic Makes His Return in Toronto

By John Denton
Jan. 29, 2014

Toronto – Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic made his much-anticipated return to action Wednesday night after missing the past 12 games with a concussion suffered on Jan. 6.

Out more than three weeks, Vucevic had to pass a variety of tests, ranging from riding a stationary bicycle, to light jogging to non-contact basketball drills, before he was allowed to return to practice. He was cleared by Magic doctors and an independent doctor hired by the NBA to head the concussion guidelines before playing on Wednesday.

The plan on Wednesday was to play Vucevic in limited minutes to ease him back into competition. He is totally symptom-free from the concussion, but his condition is somewhat lacking from nearly two weeks of inactivity.

``I feel good, but it’s been a while. I’ll just be out there with my teammates, finally, and be able to compete,’’ Vucevic said before the game. ``It will be fun because I missed it. It’s no fun to be out of the game and just watch.’’

Vucevic suffered a concussion when he tried to block a Blake Griffin shot and instead got flipped up and landed head-first on the Staples Center floor. He has not seen a replay of the fall and has said that he has no plans to do so until after the after the season.

The Magic were 0-6 earlier in the season when Vucevic missed time because of two different separated ankles. And over the course of the past 12 games that Vucevic was out, the team was 2-10 and got badly outrebounded of late by the New Orleans Hornets and Detroit Pistons.

``It’s just about me getting back in rhythm and getting back into game shape,’’ Vucevic said. ``My focus is just to help the team win. I’ve felt pretty good (in workouts) and the first couple of days I just needed time to get my legs and wind back. I’m still not where I was, but it’ll only take a couple of games. … It’s been tough watching every game not being able to participate. Other than these last two games I’ve had to sit home and it was tough. But that’s behind me and I’m just looking forward to playing and hopefully staying healthy the rest of the season.’’

In an attempt to speed up his recovery from the concussion, Vucevic was told to stay away from television and cell phones for 7-to-10 days. He said he did occasionally cheat to check in on the telecasts of Magic games.

``I would peek at the score and look at the game and not just totally shut it off,’’ Vucevic said with a smile. ``I would watch the last couple of minutes to see how they were doing.’’

Vucevic, who finished second in the NBA in rebounding last season, went into Wednesday night averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds in 28 games.

PULLING FOR AFFLALO: Ballots from Eastern and Western Conference coaches were due Tuesday at noon, and the fate of the All-Star reserves will be announced Thursday night at 7 p.m. on TNT.

Orlando guard Arron Afflalo, who is in the midst of a career season, is hoping to be picked to the NBA All-Star Game for the first time in his seven-year career. Afflalo is averaging career highs in points (20.3 ppg.), rebounds (4.3 rpg.) and assists (3.7 apg.).

What strengthens Afflalo’s case is the fact that he’s been very productive while also remaining extremely efficient. He hasn’t forced shots and has stayed away from trying to do too much on a Magic team dominated by young players.

Afflalo has boosted his scoring average for a seventh consecutive season while shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 42.2 percent from the 3-point line. To put that into perspective, Toronto’s DerMar DeRozan – another All-Star hopeful – is averaging 21.8 points per game, but he’s shooting just 42.8 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent from the 3-point line.

``I think overall you want your guys to have success and be acknowledged for their success. You want Arron to be acknowledged for his efficiency and what he’s brought to us as a team,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``Overall, throughout the course of this year, he’s played the game the right way in the sense of playing with his teammates and not forcing things.’’

OLADIPO SELECTED: As expected, Magic rookie Victor Oladipo was selected to play in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge at the NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 14 in New Orleans. Oladipo was delighted to be picked for the rookie/sophomore game, but said his ultimate goal is to improve enough that he will be a selection to play in the NBA’s showcase All-Star Game.

``It’s a blessing to be a part of something like that and now I just have to build on it and make it consistent,’’ Oladipo said. ``It’s going to be really amazing for my mom and sister to be there. It will be a fun experience for them and for me. Hopefully I can just keep building on it so that I can play on Sunday.’’

Oladipo also has hopes that he will be asked to participate in the Sprite Slam Dunk Challenge. Oladipo said several veteran players on the Magic have prodded him to get into the dunk competition and he thinks that it would be a good way for him to represent the Orlando organization.

``A lot of (the Magic players) think I should do it if I get asked to,’’ Oladipo said. ``It would be a great honor to me, so if I do get asked I will probably do it. If not, I’ll definitely go watch because it’s a great event. So we’ll see what happens.’’

The Rising Stars Challenge, which will be televised on TNT and broadcast on ESPN Radio, features two teams each consisting of nine rookies and sophomores mixed together, drafted from a pool selected by the NBA’s assistant coaches.

Oladipo ranks second among rookies in scoring (13.9 ppg.), minutes (32 mpg) and steals (1.57). He is joined in the all-star game by fellow rookies Michael Carter-Williams, Steven Adams, Pero Antic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Kelly Olynyk and Mason Plumlee.

Vaughn said that Oladipo was very much deserving of the rookie/sophomore all-star nod because of the steady improvement that he’s made this season.

``He’s gotten better even though we’ve thrown a lot at him and he’s been a good student,’’ Vaughn said. ``He wants more and he wants different challenges. And so far he’s been really good for us.’’

The second-year players are Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Terrence Jones, Jared Sullinger, Jonas Valanciunas and Dion Waiters.

Fans will be able to vote online from their computer or mobile device for the starters of each team. The starting lineups will be determined by the players garnering the top votes for their respective positions, with two backcourt and three frontcourt spots for each team. The announcement of the starting lineup will be made in broadcast and in-arena on the night of the game.