Vucevic and Pekovic Share Close Bond

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By John Denton
Nov. 7, 2014

ORLANDO – Close friends and countrymen Nikola Vucevic and Nikola Pekovic have had a running agreement for years that the person hosting the other during the NBA season has to pick up the check for their dinners.

But that could be changing soon.

``Now that I signed my deal, I have to pay (there), too,’’ joked Vucevic, referring to the lucrative four-year contract extension he signed two weeks ago. ``Before, I could get away (without paying) with being on my rookie contract.’’

Vucevic and Pekovic make up two-thirds of the contingent of NBA players from Montenegro, a small European country of approximately 620,000 people. Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic is the third and he and Vucevic had dinner together in Chicago earlier in the week.

Vucevic and Pekovic have known each other for about six years after being teammates on their National Team. Pekovic, 28, entered the NBA in 2010, while Vucevic, 24, came into the league a season later. Pekovic said he’s known for years that his younger countryman would someday play in the NBA. What has impressed him the most is the way that Vucevic has become a much stronger and physical low-post player – similar to the way that the 295-pound Pekovic plays.

``He just needed to work hard. That’s the main thing if you want to succeed here in the NBA,’’ Pekovic said. ``He was working hard and playing hard and he was staying within his limits and not trying to do some crazy things.

``I mean he needed to develop playing back to the basket if he wanted to succeed playing here,’’ Pekovic continued. ``He’s a big, long, tall guy, so that (post game) can only help him in his game when you have an advantage inside. I’m not surprised (with Vucevic’s progress) because he’s a smart person and a smart player. I think he will still develop his game a lot more.’’

Vucevic and Pekovic stopped playing for their National Team a year ago because of a disagreement with the coaching staff and the organization that assembles the team. Still, both are loved in their home country and they are admired for their notoriety they have brought to Montenegro.

``I don’t know if (Friday’s game) will be on TV over there (in Montenegro), but people would definitely follow it,’’ Vucevic said. ``It’s always exciting for a small country like Montenegro to have three NBA players now with (Nikola) Mirotic with the Bulls. We only have like 600,000 people and to have three NBA players, people are proud of us there and we’re always happy to represent our country.’’

TOBIAS TIME: When it came time to draw up the game-winning shot on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn said the decision was an easy one to go to Tobias Harris – Orlando’s most confident shooter.

Harris drilled a fade-away 21-foot jumper just before the buzzer to lift the Magic to a 91-89 defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers. Harris was quick to credit others – Nikola Vucevic and Channing Frye sets screens and Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton made passes – for the play unfolding so seamlessly.

``Obviously, it was a great shot and a great play that we drew up and it was exciting to watch,’’ Harris said. ``Most importantly, it was great for our team to get the win. … If one guy would have taken a short-cut, (the final play) would have never happened. That’s part of who we’ve become as a team and that’s how we’re going to be successful as a team – playing team basketball. We continue to do that, good things will happen.’’

Vaughn said that while there was satisfaction in drawing up a play that led to a Magic victory, he got the most delight in seeing how each of the five players involved carried out their assignment.

``For me as a coach, the execution part is what you want,’’ Vaughn said. ``You diagram and draw up plays and they can work and not work or the guy can make it or miss it, but the execution is what we’re concerned about. Did a guy screen? Was the timing correct? And did we give our guy the chance to make a play?’’

FRYE FITTING IN: Because he is new to the team and also missed four weeks of training camp with a sprained knee ligament, Channing Frye has had to try and play catch up in learning his Magic teammates.

Frye missed the opener as he continued to rehabilitate his knee, but he started the next five games and has said there’s almost a preseason feel for him because he’s trying to figure out the likes and dislikes and tendencies of his new teammates.

Frye was critical of himself in his first game, saying he did far too much standing around. But he’s steadily picked up his production of late, scoring 33 points in the three games before Friday night. Frye also said that he had to work harder on clearing the glass and he’s snagged 18 rebounds the past two games.

``I’ve learned them a little bit, but I haven’t seen what all of the teams are going to do to us,’’ Frye said. ``Most teams just do the same thing to us (defensively). So until we stop that (defense), then I’ll really see what guys can do, see how we can adjust and evolve. But five games in we’re doing a pretty good job of getting used to how teams are playing us and we’re getting better.’’

ETC: The Magic and Harris Corporation teamed up for the 11th edition of ``Seats for Soldiers’’ night to honor military men, women and their families. The event provides game tickets for more than 2,000 active and retired military personnel and their families. The Magic and Harris also provided courtside seats for US Army Sgt. Bacary Sambou and his family to acknowledge his service and the sacrifices he made for his country. Sgt. Sambou was wounded in action in March of 2012 and he was recognized at halftime on Friday during a ceremony. … Vucevic saw his double-double streak come to an end at four games when he was limited to just five boards on Wednesday in Philadelphia. Still, Vucevic – a top 10 rebounder in the NBA each of the past two seasons – came into Friday night ranked second in the NBA in rebounding at 13 boards a game. … In addition to greeting Vucevic, Pekovic hoped to catch up with Magic point guard Luke Ridnour, his teammate in Minnesota for two seasons from 2011-12 and 2012-13. Said Pekovic of Ridnour: ``He’s a great teammate, a great guy and a great person. Everything about him is positive.’’ … Home just three days following a three-day trip to Chicago and Philadelphia, the Magic hit the road again on Saturday for a three-game trip against the Nets (Sunday afternoon), Raptors (Tuesday) and Knicks (Wednesday). Orlando next plays at the Amway Center on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks before playing another road game in Washington.

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