Vucevic vs. Jokic Comparison Creating Good Buzz Around NBA

by John Denton

DENVER – Nikola Vucevic already had plenty of motivation to play well tonight against the Denver Nuggets what with the Orlando Magic starting a difficult five-game road trip and him facing off against rising star and close friend Nikola Jokic.

Then, veteran Nuggets’ forward Paul Millsap potentially added a little extra fuel to Vucevic’s fire on Friday morning when asked about the similarities between the two European 7-footers.

``Jokic is a way, way better passer and in my opinion a way better basketball player,’’ Millsap said, defending his teammate. ``I’ll give Vucevic credit - he’s been playing good basketball and he’s a good player. But our guy is a lot better.’’

While Jokic, 23, is an unquestioned star on the rise and has gotten plenty of publicity for his multi-dimensional skills, the 28-year-old Vucevic is actually enjoying the better season. Jokic is averaging 17.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 0.8 blocks and 1.4 steals while making 49.6 percent of his shots and 36.5 percent of his 3-pointers. As for Vucevic, he is averaging 20 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals while making 55.4 percent of his shots and 42.2 percent of his 3-pointers.

Also, there’s this: Vucevic is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week and over his last 10 games, he’s averaged 20.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and leading the Magic (9-9) to seven victories. Again, for comparison’s sake, Jokic’s Nuggets (11-7) come into tonight’s game (9 p.m. ET) having dropped six of the past eight games.

``There are some similarities, but he’s a great player, of course,’’ Jokic said of the comparisons between the two players. ``We’re similar, but different if that makes sense.’’

The irony in this whole debate, of course, is the fact that Vucevic and Jokic are close friends and Jokic had the Magic’s big man over to his Denver-area home on Thursday where he served Serbian food. The two did the same thing two seasons ago in Orlando when Vucevic and his wife took Jokic and his girlfriend out to dinner.

Vucevic is from Montenegro, while Jokic is from Serbia, and because of their age gap, they didn’t get to know one another until they got to the NBA. And when they are together, they speak in Serbian as opposed to English because as Jokic said, ``it easier.’’

``I’m trying to bring the guys that I know to my house because I think it’s a nice way to stay in contact and we have a good friendship,’’ Jokic said on Friday morning. ``He’s a really good person and he comes from a really good family. I know him and his wife have a son on the way and (dinner) is just one way to stay in touch with friends.’’

The Vucevic/Jokic debate aside, the Magic are looking at tonight’s game as a way to start off what figures to be a grueling trip for them. Orlando has lost in Denver each of the past two seasons – by 18 last season and by 13 the year prior. Also, Denver has won the last four games and nine of 11 in the series.

After tonight’s game, the Magic head to Los Angeles where their trip should only intensify in terms of difficulty. They play the Lakers on Sunday afternoon and the scuffling Golden State Warriors on Monday. Following a day off, the Magic play in Portland on Wednesday and in Phoenix next Friday.

Orlando started last season 8-4, winning the first game of a West Coast swing in Phoenix. However, they lost the next night in Denver in lopsided fashion. That loss triggered a nine-game losing streak that ultimately soured another season.

Vucevic knows the Magic can’t allow that to happen again, and he knows his team’s toughness will be tested on this trip.

``This trip will give us a chance to kind of see where we’re at against some of the best teams in the league and in the West,’’ Vucevic said. ``When you hit adversity on the road, you don’t get to go home and spend time with your family or friends. You have to rely on each other and be there for each other to get through the tough times. So, it’ll be a good test for us to let us see where we are. Hopefully, we can get a positive (record) on this road trip.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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