ORLANDO, Fla. — With the boost they’ve gotten the last three games off the bench from Kyle O’Quinn, the Orlando Magic no longer seem in such a bind with the ongoing absence of starting center Nikola Vucevic.
No single player can make up for the loss of Vucevic, who was one of the NBA’s top five rebounders until spraining his left ankle Dec. 31 and then sustaining a concussion less than a week later.
That was most evident Friday night when Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson overpowered Glen Davis on his way to a 30-point, 16-rebound performance.
But the 6-foot-10 O’Quinn, who came to the Magic with little fanfare two years ago as a second-round draft pick out of Norfolk State, is providing much-needed relief to both Davis and Tobias Harris.
Much like Bo Outlaw did during his two stints with the Magic beginning in 1997, O’Quinn is happier scoring, grabbing rebounds and blocking an occasional shot than describing what it is that he does.
When asked what the key has been to his increased productivity after he had 10 points, nine rebounds and one block in 24 minutes Sunday night, O’Quinn replied, "I don’t know what it is. I’m just being out there, just being a team player, just going out there and doing my job."
Even after Vucevic got hurt at the start of a five-game road trip, coach Jacque Vaughn was reluctant to use O’Quinn except at Denver when the Magic fell behind by 22 points at halftime.
That began to change Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls.
O’Quinn collected four points and four rebounds by halftime compared to four points and one rebound for Davis in almost twice as many minutes. He followed that up with eight points, three rebounds and three blocks in the second half.
Vaughn brought him in against the Bobcats after the Magic were down 19-2 through the opening six minutes, and he helped get them going with six points, five rebounds and two blocks by the end of the half.
At the end of the first quarter against the Celtics, O’Quinn had a team-high seven points after replacing Davis with 6:26 to go and the Magic having managed just six points.
"You want the respect and trust of your coaching staff and your teammates," Vaughn said. "And he’s earned that."
Except for five starts he made in place of an injured Vucevic, O’Quinn averaged less than 10 minutes a game as a rookie. But he made enough of a positive impression to be voted the Magic’s "Hustle Player of the Year" by their fans at the end of the season.
"We go hard all the time," he said after the 93-91 win over the Celtics. "Guys bring it every day. The only thing that doesn’t show for us is a ‘W,’ but we got one today."
O’Quinn will probably be leaned on heavily again during a week where Davis is expected to be matched up against Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol. Jason Maxiell, who started the first 10 games while Harris was injured and played 43 minutes at Cleveland earlier this month with Vucevic out, hasn’t gotten off the bench since last Monday night at Dallas.
"You’ve got to give Glen a lot of credit," Vaughn said. "We’re asking him, without Nik, to guard starting (centers) in this league. He’s giving up size. He’s giving us all he has."
Davis has made at least half of his shots in four of the last five games. He went 5 of 8 from the floor during the fourth quarter against the Celtics and also pulled down four rebounds. While it’s not as if he now has the go-ahead to fire at will from 3-point range, he has set a single-season career high for shots made from that distance (3).
After being repeatedly and soundly beaten on the boards without Vucevic in their lineup, the Magic have started turning things around in that category. They outrebounded both the Celtics (49-46) and the Bobcats (38-36). The Bobcats won despite getting only four offensive rebounds, one off the season low for a Magic opponent.
For the first time all season, neither Maurice Harkless nor Andrew Nicholson played in the same game. That happened when the Magic edged the Celtics.
The DNP-CD by Harkless — like Nicholson, a first-round draft pick in 2012 — came just four nights after he was used for 46 minutes against the Bulls but was credited with only one field-goal attempt (a reverse layup in the first of the three overtimes). Nicholson has played as many as 20 minutes in a game once since Dec. 21.
Victor Oladipo finished the first half of his rookie season shooting only 28.5 percent (35 of 123) from 3-point range. He made just one field goal of any type in the three overtimes and none in the second half against both the Bobcats and the Celtics.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
60: Not since Feb. 22, 1954 — almost exactly 60 years ago — did an NBA rookie play as many minutes as Oladipo did in his 57-minute outing when the Magic lost in triple overtime to the Bulls. Ray Felix and Bob Houbregs of the Baltimore Bullets both played 63 minutes back then.
29: The number of free throws made by the Magic in defeating the Celtics, topping their previous season high of 25 in a double-overtime loss Dec. 3 at Philadelphia. Their 36 attempts were the most since going 21-of-37 from the line against the Miami Heat in an overtime victory on March 13, 2012. Dwight Howard went 6-of-18 in that game.
3: The Magic now have three victories in games where the final margin is between one and five points. They also defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 94-91 on Nov. 13 and the Bulls 83-82 on Dec. 16. Their record in close games is 3-9.
THIS DAY IN MAGIC HISTORY
Jan. 20, 1968: Nick Anderson is born.
Anderson was the first player ever drafted by the Magic, chosen with the 11th overall pick after helping lead Illinois to the Final Four as a junior. Now a community ambassador for the Magic and occasionally a pre-game co-host on their telecasts for FOX Sports Florida, Anderson still holds career franchise records in six statistical categories, including games (692) and minutes (22,440) played.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Yes, that’s Dennis Scott — the Magic’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made and now a studio analyst on NBA TV — on the left in 1986. The Flint Hill Prep star (Oakton, Va.) went 91-6 during his years there, including a 51-game winning streak.