No Shortage of Confidence in Oladipo's Game

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By John Denton

Jan. 2, 2016

CLEVELAND – A bench player in high school until his senior year and someone who was lightly recruited in terms of college scholarships, Victor Oladipo considers himself a fighter who has had to battle for everything he’s gotten in the NBA.

The Orlando Magic guard’s fighting spirit was evident on Friday night in Washington, D.C. – just miles away from his childhood home and where his basketball journey began.

Mired in an unsightly shooting slump the previous 10 games, Oladipo came out on Friday armed with loads of confidence. He confidently stepped into a couple of 3-pointers, drilled a handful of pull-up jumpers and finished with authority at the rim following two of his four steals.

Orlando lost to Washington 103-91, but the positive that emerged was Oladipo’s 20-point, five-assist, four-steal night.

``I was playing with confidence and that’s what I’m going to continue to keep doing,’’ Oladipo said. ``If I go 0-for-20 or 0-for-10 and don’t make any shots I’m going to just keep believing in myself and have confidence. That’s when I’m at my best and that’s when I can help my team win.’’

Oladipo came into Friday’s stuck in a puzzling six-game slump where he had made just 26.4 percent of his shots and only 23.1 percent of this 3-pointers. During that time, Oladipo averaged just 6.7 points and seemed to be hesitant in taking shots. But that changed on Friday – much of the delight of a Magic team that needs his scoring and playmaking abilities off the bench.

GETTING PICKED OFF: As so often has been the case when the Magic struggle against the Washington Wizards, Orlando once again struggled to contain all-star point guard John Wall.

Wall burned the Magic for 24 points and 13 assists largely because Magic point guard Elfrid Payton struggled to get over, around and through picks set.

Magic head coach Scott Skiles, a former point guard himself, said there’s an art to avoiding screens and working around them so that teams can’t pick the Magic apart in pick-and-roll sets. Skiles even wants his point guards to attack the screener with contact – something that might make them less hesitant to set high screens as the game progresses.

Skiles said that Payton being able to get over screens has been an ongoing issue for a couple of weeks, resulting in the Magic struggling with dribble penetration. Skiles said he has no idea whether Payton’s two recent sprained ankles has hampered his lateral movement.

``He’s had trouble the last couple of weeks and it’s hurt us,’’ Skiles said Payton’s ability to avoid and fight over screens. ``It’s two guys operating together – big man making the early call and some of it is being more physical with the guy that you are guarding to change the angle of the screen. And some of it is just fighting it and not running smack-dab into (the screen) and fighting over the top. The game is pick-and-roll dominated, so if you are playing the point guard position there are going to be people running up behind you and screening you all over the place.’’

Skiles said he resisted the notion to change Orlando’s pick-and-roll coverage on Friday night because the Magic prepared defensively to have the guard get over the screen and the big man to run back to the rim. Because Orlando is still relatively new at learning Skiles’ defensive system, things haven’t always gone great when he’s done tinkering in the midst of games.

``We haven’t been very good at that when we’ve tried to make in-game adjustments and we just haven’t mentally been able to carry that out,’’ Skiles said bluntly. ``That has to be another step that we have to be able to make. We have to be able to take a timeout or during a free throw yell out a different coverage and be able to process it mentally and do it. We’ve had a tendency when we’ve tried to make some sort of adjustment, a couple of guys are with it and a couple of guys aren’t and it ends up – maybe – worse.’’

PRECARIOUS POSITION: Magic forward Tobias Harris spent just one season in college at the University of Tennessee, but he still takes great pride in his school. Harris often wears Tennessee orange shirts and shorts after practice at the Magic headquarters, and on several occasions he’s travelled back to Knoxville, Tenn., to take in big football or basketball games.

On Saturday, Harris was caught in a sticky spot as the Volunteers played at Auburn, the school where his younger brother, Tyler Harris, is a standout forward. Also, Auburn is coached by Bruce Pearl – the coach that Harris played for at Tennessee. Much to his surprise, Harris got to watch the game in Cleveland on Saturday as it was televised nationally by CBS.

``Obviously I’m a big Tennessee fan, but now I’m a big Auburn fan too,’’ Tobias said. ``It was a good game and both teams competed. You could see what Rick Barnes is instilling in that Tennessee team and they’ve got some good players on that team. SEC games are always fun to watch.’’

Tyler Harris, a 6-foot-10, 228-pound senior forward, came into Saturday averaging 14 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists a game for the Tigers. Wearing No. 12 just like his older brother with the Magic, Tyler had 19 points, 13 rebounds and two assists as Auburn beat Tennessee 83-77.

``I just tell Tyler to worry about what he has to do on a daily basis, take advantage of this opportunity and leading his team,’’ Tobias said on his advice to Tyler. ``I don’t talk to him too much about the pros. But he’s got a shot.’’

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