ORLANDO, Fla. — You know the adage about it’s not how you start but how you finish?
Victor Oladipo put a new twist on that Wednesday night.
Chances are LeBron James never found himself on the floor during his rookie season with his team trailing by 36 points in the fourth quarter, like Oladipo did during the Orlando Magic’s 120-92 loss to the Miami Heat. What should have been something of a special occasion — the first regular-season start by the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft — turned into another reminder of how far both player and team have to progress.
Aside from the shooting of Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, who combined to go 11 of 18 from 3-point range, the Magic had virtually nothing working for them. While Oladipo finished with 20 points, 11 of those came in the final 4:12 with all of the Heat’s starters watching from the bench.
Although he came up with five steals, his eight turnovers were almost a duplication of what took place against the Dallas Mavericks in the Magic’s previous game. Oladipo had been one of only five players in the league averaging at least four turnovers a game, and he did that while playing less than 30 minutes off the bench.
“All that’s part of the learning curve, of understanding this league, what’s available to you and how to attack,” coach Jacque Vaughn said.
Largely because of the Heat’s vast array of long-range shooters, Vaughn chose to go with a starting lineup which included Oladipo, Nelson and Afflalo. Oladipo said he found out about three hours before tipoff that he would be starting and didn’t approach the game any different from how he would have as a reserve.
“I just never played against Miami before,” he said. “So I didn’t know what to expect or what they looked like. I do now.”
Other than on a few switches, he never had to guard James. That didn’t mean he seldom felt the presence of the most dominating force in the game.
James had a couple of highlight-reel dunks and impressed Oladipo most with his passing ability out of double-teams.
“He can change a game in so many ways,” he said. “When we were coming over to double, he would just make the right play. And it wasn’t like once or twice (but) every time.”
The Magic hope they can get something close to that type of consistency from the Oladipo and Nelson together. As was the case even before the start of training camp, Vaughn didn’t regard one as a point guard and the other as a shooting guard.
“There were segments of the game where he was in with Jameer and he was playing off the ball. There were segments where he was in with Jameer and I had him handle the basketball,” Vaughn said. “It’s about putting him in different situations.”
“He’s new to the NBA, and I’m new playing off the ball,” Nelson said. “So we just have to figure things out.”
There could have been a less difficult first game for the experiment to be conducted. And it won’t get any easier Saturday night when the two teams meet again in Miami.
“We have to do a better job of winning the effort game,” Nelson said. “They have so many weapons out there. It’s tough when you give those guys multiple opportunities on the offensive end when you have the amount of turnovers we had.”
“What they have wasn’t built overnight either,” Oladipo said of James and the Heat. “When they first started, everything wasn’t perfect. But they continued to work hard and work together, and eventually they are where are now. We’ve just got to wait and be patient.”
That means Oladipo needs to keep his motor running, no matter how lopsided the margin may be.
“Never stop, never quit,” he said. “It’s going to pay off in the end.”
But for now, it’s going to require taking a few more shots in the chops.