AP Photo/Mark Duncan
At this point in the season, wins and losses don’t matter for the Orlando Magic. Even though the Cleveland Cavaliers extended the Magic’s losing streak to a season-high 12 games, what matters more for Orlando is player development.
Players like Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson — the future of the Magic — had standout performances against the Cavaliers. Vucevic finished with a career-high 25 points to go along with 13 rebounds, while Nicholson had 21 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks.
Vucevic got off to a quick start in the first quarter with 11 points and six rebounds. Matched up primarily against Tyler Zeller, Vucevic did whatever he wanted offensively. Whether it was Vucevic scoring on a layup in a pick-and-roll with Jameer Nelson, a lefty hook in the paint, or converting a traditional three-point play on an offensive rebound putback, it became clear that Zeller was outmatched.
The trend continued throughout the game, as Vucevic did whatever he wanted offensively against Zeller (and Marreese Speights on occasion). Lefty hooks? Righty hooks? Midrange jumpers? Offensive rebound putbacks? No problem.
Would Vucevic had put up this type of performance against Anderson Varejao? Probably not. Regardless, Vucevic displayed his full potential on offense, though he has a lot of work to do to become a net positive defensively.
As for Nicholson, his silky smooth jumper and refined post game was working in unison. Like Vucevic, Nicholson showed what he’s capable of offensively.
It’s games like these that make Magic fans wonder why he wasn’t getting more playing time before Glen Davis went down with a potentially season-ending injury. Now that Davis is hurt and Nicholson is starting at power forward out of necessity, perhaps now that question can be put to rest.
Perhaps the most encouraging development from this game was how well Nicholson and Vucevic looked together on offense. Because they both can operate either from the low post (on either block) or from midrange (at the elbows), you rarely, if ever, see them get into each other’s way offensively.
And it helps that Vucevic is a capable high-post passer.
The pairing needs to improve on defense, but it’s hard not to be impressed with how they performed on offense. And when you take into account Maurice Harkless’ slow but steady progress, the Magic fanbase may be getting a glimpse at the frontcourt of the future.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Kyrie Irving (24 points, eight assists, and six rebounds) was his usual sterling self. When the game got tight late as Orlando tried to mount a comeback, Irving shut the door in crunch time.
That Was … More of the Same
Another game, another loss. The Magic have now lost 23 of their last 25 games since a surprising 12-13 start to the season. Seems like yesterday people were talking about the playoffs.