Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 3

Jan 14

Nikola Vucevic deserves to be an All-Star

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Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

On Saturday night, Nikola Vucevic scored a career-high 34 points and pulled down 16 rebounds against the Trail Blazers. Not only are the Blazers second in the Western Conference (1.5 games back of the Warriors), but they also have a top-five defense – Portland ranks second in defensive efficiency, allowing 100.9 points per 100 possessions.

But it didn’t matter. Vucevic scored at will against the Blazers’ frontcourt. Chris Kaman, Meyers Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge took turns defending Vucevic, but none of them had much success in slowing him down. It was a superb game against an elite team.

Vucevic followed up that performance with a 33-point, 11-rebound master class against the Bulls – highlighted by his destruction of Pau Gasol.

Anyone that has watched the Magic closely this season knows that Vucevic is putting up All-Star numbers. He leads the NBA with 23 double-doubles and his 21.7 PER ranks sixth in the East.

The problem for Vucevic is that the Magic are a losing team. They’re 14-27 and 13th in the Eastern Conference (ahead of only the Sixers and Knicks). Unfortunately for Vucevic, the odds that he’ll get voted in as a reserve by the East coaches are low.

For those that remember, when Arron Afflalo was with the Magic last season, he was in the same situation. He was playing at an All-Star caliber level, but because he was playing on one of the worst teams in the league, he didn’t get selected. Vucevic could experience déjà vu.

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Jan 13

The night that Nikola Vucevic ethered Pau Gasol

Orlando Magic v Chicago Bulls

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

CHICAGO – “Two points.”

That was coach Jacque Vaughn’s response when asked about Nikola Vucevic’s seismic left-handed dunk on Pau Gasol that sent reverberations throughout the United Center during the Magic’s 121-114 win over the Bulls.

The dunk occurred late in the third quarter. Frye passed the ball to Vucevic on the right wing, who took a quick jab step and immediately drove to the basket (sidenote: it can’t be understated that Frye’s ability to spread the floor and pull the weak-side defender – Taj Gibson – away from Vucevic made the play happened, since Gibson couldn’t provide help). From there, all it took was one dribble for Vucevic to gather momentum and throw it down on Gasol.

Judging by the reaction of Vucevic’s teammates, it was more than just two points. Elfrid Payton looked like a human exclamation point, while the players on the bench nearly rushed the court like a game on the AND1 Mixtape Tour. Vucevic’s dunk galvanized the team.

“Obviously, I don’t do it pretty often so I tried to do a little surprise with my dunk,” Vucevic said.

The surprised work. It caught everyone in the arena off-guard.

“That was great,” said Payton. “I didn’t know he was that athletic. I was so happy. I usually never show emotion and I even got a little riled up.”

Victor Oladipo had the same reaction.

“I didn’t know he was that athletic,” Oladipo said. “He looked like me out there. It was a great move. It felt like the rest of us dunked and Vooch was kind of like, ‘what happened?’ It kind of felt like that a little bit, though. It was cool.”

Even Vucevic, who’s normally mild-mannered, couldn’t help but admire his handiwork, even if it was just for a split-second. After he and Gasol simultaneously fell to the floor, Vucevic got up first and stared down Gasol as he ran back on defense.

The dunk sent shockwaves in the United Center, as Bulls fans “oohed” and “aahed.”

In all, it was a statement from Vucevic, who outplayed Gasol in a physical battle between two of the best centers in the Eastern Conference.

“Yeah, I just wanted to get to the rim and really try to finish strong,” said Vucevic. “Some of the plays before, I missed a couple shots. I just wanted to get up there and try to finish as strong as I can. I got up high enough. I just wanted to dunk it. It was a good play for our team.”

It was a good play among many for Vucevic, who completed the best two-game stretch of his career. After scoring a career-high 34 points in Portland on Saturday, Vucevic (33 points) nearly set a new career-high against the Bulls two days later. It was the first time in Vucevic’s career that he had back-to-back 30-point games.

But none of his points were bigger, and more emphatic, than the two he scored against the Bulls.

Jan 13

Grades: Orlando Magic 121, Chicago Bulls 114

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Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

 

Orlando Magic 121 Final
Recap | Box Score
114 Chicago Bulls

Nikola Vucevic
16-24 FG | 1-5 FT | 11 REB | 4 AST | 33 PTS | -18

There’s not much more to say about Vucevic that hasn’t already been covered in my media log. It was obvious from the opening tip that the Magic were targeting Gasol defensively, force-feeding the ball to Vucevic in the post and on the perimeter. And it worked, as Vucevic’s 16 made field goals were a new career-high for him.

Victor Oladipo
11-17 FG | 8-10 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 33 PTS | +8

When Oladipo scored a career-high 35 points against the Bulls last season, the one thing that stood out the most was how Jimmy Butler looked completely overwhelmed trying to defend Oladipo off the dribble. It was the same story in Monday night’s game, particularly in crunch time. Butler struggled to prevent Oladipo from attacking the rim at will.

Elfrid Payton
5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 10 PTS | +8

From start to finish, Orlando played with pace and Payton was a big reason for that. He got into the Magic’s sets quickly on offense and he pushed the ball up the floor at every opportunity — for Magic fans, it had to be refreshing to see. Orlando looked like a different team offensively than the one that struggled to score against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.

Luke Ridnour
2-3 FG | 4-5 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 9 PTS | -1

Whenever Payton rested, all Ridnour had to do was maintain the same tempo on offense. For the most part, he did just that. There were times when the Magic got bogged down offensively, but that had more to do with Chicago’s second unit tightening things up on defense more than anything else. All in all, Ridnour got the job done.

Chicago Bulls

There’s a lot going on with the Bulls right now. Derrick Rose is in a prolonged shooting slump, Joakim Noah isn’t healthy, and Mike Dunleavy and Doug McDermott are sidelined with injuries. Even with the loss, how does Chicago have a 26-13 record? Gasol and Butler are playing like All-Stars, and Nikola Mirotic has emerged as a leading Rookie of the Year candidate.

Jan 13

Video: Nikola Vucevic dunks on Pau Gasol

Jan 12

Preview: Orlando Magic at Chicago Bulls

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Chicago Bulls
  • Date: January 12, 2015
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: United Center

Records

  • Magic: 13-27
  • Bulls: 26-12

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Elfrid Payton
  • Victor Oladipo
  • Devyn Marble
  • Channing Frye
  • Nikola Vucevic

Bulls:

  • Derrick Rose
  • Jimmy Butler
  • Tony Snell
  • Joakim Noah
  • Pau Gasol

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 93.0 (21st of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 100.3 (29th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 106.5 (18th of 30)

Bulls:

  • Pace: 93.3 (20th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 107.9 (11th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 104.5 (11th of 30)

Read about the Bulls

Blog a Bull

Jan 12

Power Rankings Roundup: Week 11

 
Matt Moore, CBS Sports: No. 27 (Last week: No. 24)

The Magic’s recent woes aren’t the problem; they’ve played better teams on a West Coast road trip. The problem is they have so few surprise wins against better teams to counterbalance the ones they should lose. You wonder if changes aren’t coming.

Marc Stein, ESPN: No. 28 (Last week: No. 26)

The first meaty story about Jacque Vaughn’s job security is out in the wake of six straight L’s for the Magic and a 3-10 funk since their Week 7 rise to No. 17. Makes it tough to spend too much time on Nikola Vucevic’s league-leading 22 double-doubles, one more than Anthony Davis and John Wall.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. 27 (Last week: No. 27)

To confirm the Magic are in an offensive slump, they shot 40 percent and scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions against the Lakers’ defense on Friday. Four of the five guys who have taken at least 10 threes during their six-game losing streak have made less than 30 percent of them. Given their upcoming opponents, the slump will continue.

Drew Garrison, SB Nation: No. 27 (Last week: No. 22)

The Magic are on a six-game losing streak and things aren’t getting any easier going forward. Chicago, Houston, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Detroit are next in line. The Magic’s next winnable game? Jan. 23 at Madison Square Garden.

Matt Dollinger, Sports Illustrated: No. 27 (Last week: No. 24)

It’s been two weeks since the Magic have hit the century mark, which explains why it’s also been two weeks since a victory. Orlando is 9-1 when scoring at least 100 points this season and 4-26 when it doesn’t.

Marc J. Spears, Yahoo! Sports: No. 28 (Last week: No. 21)

After losing 11 of their past 14 games, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn told the Orlando Sentinel he is not worried about losing his job.

Jan 11

Highlights: Nikola Vucevic’s career-high 34 points

Jan 11

Grades: Portland Trail Blazers 103, Orlando Magic 92

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Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

 

Portland Trail Blazers 103 Final
Recap | Box Score
92 Orlando Magic

Nikola Vucevic
15-23 FG | 4-6 FT | 16 REB | 2 AST | 34 PTS | -18

Vucevic set a new career-high with 34 points and he did it against the second-best defense in the NBA. When Vucevic gets going offensively, it’s fun to watch. Right hooks. Midrange jumpers. Floaters. Offensive rebound putbacks. Everything was going in. He even made a turnaround lefty hook for good measure. Vucevic proved why he deserves to be an All-Star this season.

Victor Oladipo
6-21 FG | 6-8 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 18 PTS | -6

When Oladipo attacks the rim and gets the benefit of the whistle, he can pile up free-throws in a hurry, as he did against the Blazers. And he’s lucky that he was able to, because otherwise, he would have had a disastrous night on offense. He went 6-for-21 from the floor and missed shots from practically everywhere on the floor.

Elfrid Payton
4-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 9 PTS | -11

You have to admire Payton’s motor on the defensive side of the ball. He hounded Damian Lillard all the way up the court at various junctures in the game. There was a sequence on the final possession of the second quarter where Payton was isolated against Lillard and forced him into a wild fadeaway 3-pointer from 33 feet out. Lillard missed, of course.

Devyn Marble
3-6 FG | 0-2 3P | 5 STL | 3 REB | 6 PTS | -12

Getting the first start of his NBA career due to the injuries of Tobias Harris (ankle) and Evan Fournier (knee), Marble acquitted himself well. He was active, particularly on defense, where he was able to rack up a career-high five steals. The niftiest steal of them all was when Marble poked the ball from behind on Steve Blake, which led to a dunk for himself.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland jumped out to a 39-20 lead midway through the second quarter and looked poised to blow out the Magic at home. That didn’t happen. Instead, Orlando showed some heart and fought back. Both teams exchanged leads for much of the third quarter and part of the fourth before the Blazers finally exerted their talent advantage at the end.

Jan 11

Video: Maurice Harkless dunks in transition

Jan 10

Preview: Orlando Magic at Portland Trail Blazers

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Portland Trail Blazers
  • Date: January 10, 2015
  • Time: 10:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Moda Center

Records

  • Magic: 13-26
  • Trail Blazers: 28-8

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Elfrid Payton
  • Victor Oladipo
  • Devyn Marble
  • Channing Frye
  • Nikola Vucevic

Trail Blazers:

  • Damian Lillard
  • Wesley Matthews
  • Nicolas Batum
  • LaMarcus Aldridge
  • Chris Kaman

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 92.9 (22nd of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 100.5 (29th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 106.5 (19th of 30)

Trail Blazers:

  • Pace: 94.0 (14th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 108.7 (6th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.2 (2nd of 30)

Read about the Trail Blazers

Blazer’s Edge

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