Vucevic Surpasses Shaq as Magic Must Settle for Moral Victory
Monday night’s 112-110 overtime loss was about as heartbreaking a defeat can get for a Magic side that’s now 12-19 and entering the year 2013 on a 6-game losing slump. Nikola Vucevic swallowed up a career-high and new franchise record 29 rebounds. That’s something Shaquille O’Neal or Dwight Howard have ever accomplished, and is making Rob Hennigan grin all the more. Vucci Mane is officially the gem of the Bynum-Howard deal. Even late in the 4th quarter, Vooch was out-rebounding the entire Heat squad and constantly demanding the ball in the post. Oh yeah, the 22-year-old always scored a career-best 20 points.
Coach Vaughn on Vucevic’s record night: “In my young career as a coach there are some satisfying moments and to see him play like that and respond that way, pretty satisfying.”
Squandered chances at the end of regulation and overtime prevented Orlando from earning what would’ve been the best win of Coach Jacque Vaughn’s short tenure. Some bad decision making and turnovers by Afflalo and Hedo would eventually doom this young and injury-riddled squad. JJ Redick broke out of his slump and provided 23 points from the pine. Arron managed a relatively efficient 28 points in defeat. Kudos to Nicholson and McRoberts for providing outstanding frontcourt support.
No one in the Magic organization wants to admit that a game against the Miami Heat is different from any other. However, when you’re coming off a 35-point stomping and get the defending champs who are also your state rival coming into your building, the energy and intensity is bound to go up a few notches. Despite giving out five thousand rally rackets to a new Magic franchise attendance record 19,311 spectators, the loudest cheers and applause were for Miami players as Magic Nation was severely outnumbered by red attire in the blue seats. An electric playoff-like stage was set.
Coach Vaughn on his team’s resiliency: “We really showed a lot of resolve tonight and a lot of fight, and I hope that our fans appreciated it and I’m proud of our effort tonight.”
The injuries keep piling on as Orlando was without the services of Jameer, Big Baby, E’Twaun, Gustavo, and of course Harrington. Coach Vaughn would keep Harkless buried on the bench as DeQuan Jones received his first start since November 18th. You knew when DeQuan powered down the lane and hammered home a dunk, and Andrew popped Wade in the nose to draw blood, that this undermanned Magic squad was ready for a fight to the bitter end.
Coach Vaughn on starting DeQuan: “D.J.’s been doing an excellent job in practice and I always will reward that. The fact that he’s done his early work, his extra work, his attitude has been great, and for me to play young guys, I will reward those habits.”
Orlando trailed 31-22 after one quarter thanks to 10 points from LeBron. The now 28-year-old would tally 36 points, 11 assists, and 8 boards when the evening concluded. Coach Spoelstra’s Miami squad found little difficulty penetrating the paint in certain intervals of the contest, which was a main contributor to their 63.2 FG% in the first period. Vucevic would then realize there was no opposing big man nearly close in stature to guard him and Nik began dominating. Vucci Mane was having such a remarkable 13-point and 16-rebound half that it garnered his first “MVP” chants from the Amway Center crowd.
The remainder of the game was a battle of runs, grind-it-out possessions, and constant physical and emotional exertion that had Orlando felt like winners even though the scoreboard disagreed with that logic. Magic fans should be proud of their team stepping up against adversity and almost knocking off the champs. The Magic have New Year’s Day off to regroup before hosting the Chicago Bulls Wednesday. A healthy Jameer would have made a vast difference tonight.
Adam Papageorgiou runs Orlando Magic Greek and is a proud MBO contributor.