Jason Smith Most Comfortable Coming Off Bench

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By John Denton

March 12, 2016

PORTLAND – In his first two – and only starts of the season – center/power forward Jason Smith was his usually solid self for the Orlando Magic, scoring 13 and 10 points.

But it’s as a reserve – where Smith has thrived all season and once again in Friday’s defeat of Sacramento – that the sweet-shooting 7-footer is the most comfortable.

With standout center Nikola Vucevic out nursing a strained right groin, Smith started against Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday and Tuesday. On Friday, Magic head coach Scott Skiles moved Smith – Orlando’s most consistent and productive reserve all season – back into a sixth man role. Smith delivered in a big way, scoring 16 points, grabbing seven rebounds, blocking three shots and swiping two steals in Orlando’s 107-100 whipping of the DeMarcus Cousins-less Kings.

``I just try to be a spark off the bench,’’ said Smith, who made six of nine shots and created driving lanes for the Magic with his ability to stretch out the defense. ``(Coming off the bench), I can get a feel for the game and how (the opponent) is going to play and how we’re playing on defense. I can see what’s working and what’s not working and I can get an idea of what we need to do.’’

Smith, who recently turned 30 years old, keeps himself ready by sprinting off the bench to greet teammates during timeouts. Often, he runs to the scorer’s table when checking into the game and he jogs in place during timeouts to keep himself ready for game action.

Smith, who signed a one-year free-agent contract with the Magic last summer, has positioned himself to take advantage of the NBA’s rising salary cap this summer by staying ready. He’s averaged 6.7 points and 2.5 rebounds a game while playing 14.9 minutes off the bench in 55 of 57 games. More impressively, Smith has shot 50.4 percent from the floor despite being primarily a mid-range jump shooter.

INJURY UPDATE: The Magic were without standout center Nikola Vucevic – the team’s leading scorer and rebounder – for a fourth straight game on Saturday.

Unfortunately for the Magic, Vucevic (strained right groin) wasn’t the only one unable to play because of an injury. On a night when the Magic were facing one of the game’s most potent point guards, they were down two point guards because of injury issues.

Brandon Jennings, whom the Magic acquired on Feb. 16 in a trade with the Detroit Pistons, was unable to play because of soreness on the bottom of right heel. The injury was originally thought to be stemming from his Achilles’ tendon – the one that the veteran point guard tore last season. However, Jennings said the pain is coming more from the bottom of his foot.

``The Achilles is fine,’’ Jennings stressed. ``(The injury) was just over time. So it’s nothing serious. It’s just soreness and I should be good (by Tuesday’s game). It was (hurting) more after we got off the plane (early Saturday in Portland) with the altitude and stuff.’’

Point guard Elfrid Payton missed his second straight game with a strained elbow that he injured on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Payton tried warming up before the game, but he said he still felt pain in his shooting arm.

``It was a screen and my arm overextended. I knew it hurt, but I just kept playing,’’ said Payton of the injury that happened in the first quarter of Tuesday’s loss to the Lakers. ``It’s gotten a little better, but there’s still pain. I tried to give it a go just now, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to go. It hurts to follow through.’’

FROM ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER: Dewayne Dedmon raised more than a few eyebrows last week when he asked the Magic for permission to go to the Development League for a game to get some playing time under his belt.

Six days after spending one game with the Magic’s D-League affiliate – the Erie (Pa.) Bayhawks – Dedmon found himself in the Orlando’s starting lineup on Friday night in Sacramento.

After playing sparingly in the Magic’s home loss to Phoenix last Friday, Dedmon got on a plane and flew from Orlando to Buffalo. He then rode 90 minutes to Erie where he posted 17 points, 22 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Bayhawks. A day later, the 7-footer flew uncomfortably on a commuter plane from Erie to Detroit and then onto San Francisco to rejoin his Magic teammates.

On Friday, when Magic coach Scott Skiles moved Smith back into a reserve role, he promoted Dedmon to the starting lineup. The playing time in the D-League seemed to help as Dedmon defended without fouling and posted nine points, seven rebounds and a blocked shot in 24 minutes. During his time on the floor, the Magic were a plus-six on the scoreboard.

``I was not even thinking about (foul trouble) and I was just trying to not get the little ticky-tack fouls swiping at balls,’’ Dedmon said. ``I was just trying to keep my hands to myself, basically.’’

Skiles also turned to Dedmon because he hoped that his energy and enthusiasm could spark the Magic out of their recent malaise. Whether he was on the floor or on the bench, Dedmon was a chatterbox most of the night, encouraging teammates and helping them with the location of on-coming screens.

``I’m always going to bring energy and even if I don’t play you are going to hear me on the bench,’’ Dedmon joked. ``But to be able to actually play valuable minutes, that was big for me.’’

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