ORLANDO, Fla. — Jason Maxiell saw plenty of unusual things during his eight years with the Detroit Pistons before signing with the Orlando Magic over the summer.
But what he witnessed Friday night in his first start as a member of the Magic might have topped them all.
Center Nikola Vucevic, one of the NBA’s most improved players last season, fouled out of the Magic’s 97-91 preseason loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. That wasn’t strange in and of itself. The fact that Vucevic picked up his sixth foul with 2:47 to go in the third quarter caused Maxiell to laugh in spite of himself when it happened and when the subject was brought up in the locker room afterward.
“There’s a first for everything,” he said. “It’s a long preseason.”
Had Vucevic fouled out — preferably with not so much time left on the clock — during the regular season, chances are Magic coach Jacque Vaughn might have used the 6-foot-7, 260-pound ex-Piston at center the rest of the way. But Maxiell had already gone toe-to-toe with Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph and acquitted himself quite well. So Vaughn gave him the rest of the night off and let second-year pro Kyle O’Quinn get an extended run.
“We have some options, depending on who we play,” Vaughn said. “Tonight I don’t think Max even played 20 minutes. I wanted to see him play against Randolph, and I thought overall his physicality was good for us.”
Andrew Nicholson came in for Maxiell just before Vucevic was whistled for his fifth and sixth fouls within a 13-second span. During his 17 minutes on the floor, Maxiell held Randolph — a two-time All-Star — largely in check while grabbing four rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end.
“Once it gets physical, I believe that I’m the guy for the job,” he said. “Matching up with Zach is my kind of night. I know it’s preseason, but it’s going to be a long night with him.”
Despite his rough-and-tumble presence, Maxiell has learned where to draw the line when it comes to physical play. He fouled out only twice in a combined 1,128 regular-season and playoff games with the Pistons, a statistic which took him by surprise when it was mentioned to him.
While the majority of those games were with him in a backup role, he made 71 starts a year ago and blocked 95 shots, more than anyone on the Magic had.
“There are tricks to the game,” Maxiell said. “And I learned from the best in Rasheed and Ben Wallace that there are tricks of fouling and the refs not noticing.”
O’Quinn had started the first three preseason games at power forward, with Nicholson getting the assignment Wednesday night in a loss at Houston. Tobias Harris, who made 20 starts for the Magic after they acquired him from the Milwaukee Bucks in February, was held out for the second game in a row after hurting an ankle during practice Tuesday.
Even if Maxiell starts again when the Pistons come to town Sunday, don’t expect him to play the equivalent of a full half.
“I’ve been kind of just monitoring and limiting his minutes to get a feel for him,” Vaughn said. “He knows how to play. So it gives us a chance to get other guys in the game.”
Adjusting to life in Orlando has been no problem. Asked what the biggest change has been for him, he said, “I would say the sunshine. No coats, just throwing on a shirt and some shoes and be gone.”
But there is another adjustment he’s making which is less of a laughing matter. After undergoing surgery earlier this year for a detached retina, he is now wearing protective goggles. Considering the position he plays and his jersey number (54), parallels have been drawn between him and Horace Grant, the power forward on the Magic’s 1995 Eastern Conference championship team.
“It is tough,” Maxiell said. “But at the same time, I’m wearing them for a reason. I have the option not to wear them, but I’m going to wear them to protect my eyes. So I have to adjust to them. It’s OK.”
Plus, not all goggles are created the same.
“I might stick to the Bo Outlaw look,” he said. “The Horace (goggles) might be too thick for me. But I might do it one night. Maybe.”