JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Victor Oladipo’s first NBA preseason game couldn’t have gone much better or, by preseason standards, couldn’t have ended with more of a controversy.
The argument wasn’t about whether he should have been running the offense instead of Jameer Nelson or Arron Afflalo for the final 7:39 of the Orlando Magic’s 99-95 loss Wednesday night to the New Orleans Pelicans. A glance at his final linescore — 10 points, nine assists and four steals with only two turnovers in 25 minutes — provided evidence that their highest draft choice since Dwight Howard went No. 1 overall in 2004 appears to be the real deal.
But it was his inbound pass that resulted in the last of those assists which caused the Magic and what was left of the crowd at the Veterans Memorial Arena to howl in disapproval.
While replays appeared to indicate Tobias Harris should have been credited with a 3-point field goal which would have cut their deficit to 97-96 with 13 seconds to go, the three officials chose to let the original call stand of Harris’ basket being only worth two points.
“We really wanted that to be a 3,” Oladipo said. “That would have been a huge shot for us. But sometimes the dice doesn’t roll your way.”
Coach Jacque Vaughn was able to laugh off the suggestion that he should have thrown a red challenge flag like coaches in the NFL can do.
“I reached in my pocket, but it was not there,” he said.
Vaughn’s good mood was due to the showings of several players. Nikola Vucevic accounted for seven points in a row down the stretch as the Magic trimmed a 91-81 deficit to 93-91. Andrew Nicholson, who never attempted a 3-pointer in 75 games as a rookie, knocked one down from the corner off an assist from Oladipo right before halftime and wound up going 6 of 10 from the floor.
But the bulk of the praise was for the 6-foot-4 guard out of Indiana who was used more at the point against the Pelicans than in a shooter’s role.
“He’s going to continue to learn and continue to be put in situations that he hasn’t been in before, which is good for him,” Vaughn said. “He’ll learn from it and he’ll grow from it. But I think guys will really enjoy playing with him. Overall, it was a pretty good first night.”
Oladipo had three assists and three steals by the end of the first quarter after Vaughn brought him, Harris, Nicholson, Jason Maxiell and E’Twaun Moore into the game at the same time. If he had any nerves being matched up against Jrue Holiday, whom the Pelicans acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers over the summer, it didn’t show.
“Once you go out there and you realize it’s basketball, it all kind of settles down a little bit,” he said. “Plus, my teammates did a great job of calming me down.”
Nor did he get flustered in the second quarter when Anthony Davis, the top pick in the 2012 draft, swatted a 3-point attempt of his. Oladipo hustled to track down the ball on the other side of the midcourt line and drove to the basket to bank in a buzzer-beating shot.
“I forgot it was Anthony Davis,” he said. “I played against Anthony a couple years ago, so I know how long he is. So I was kind of like, ‘Oh, yeah, I forgot.'”
The Magic went with a lineup of Oladipo, Maurice Harkless, Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Vucevic for the majority of the final period. Both Nelson and Afflalo went only 2 of 9 for the game, with both of Nelson’s baskets coming on 3-pointers.
Vaughn hinted he might continue to make substitutions five players at a time when the Magic host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.