While the Orlando Magic were delighted to have center Nikola Vucevic back last week from a 12-game absence due to a concussion, it also made for a difficult decision on the part of coach Jacque Vaughn.
Tobias Harris, less than a week removed from scoring 28 points and grabbing a career-high 20 rebounds in a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, was taken out of the starting lineup Wednesday night at Toronto to allow Glen Davis to slide over to his more natural position at power forward. Davis started every game at center while Vucevic was subject to the guidelines of the NBA’s concussion protocol.
Harris had been in the starting lineup since Dec. 18, almost two weeks before Vucevic’s run of bad luck began with a sprained left ankle on New Year’s Eve against the Golden State Warriors. He was uncharacteristically nowhere to be found Friday night following the Magic’s 113-102 win over his former team, the Milwaukee Bucks, when their locker room was opened to reporters.
Any potential for lingering hard feelings on the part of Harris was averted the next game when Vaughn started him at small forward in their 96-89 loss to the Boston Celtics because an injury to Jameer Nelson. With Nelson out, Arron Afflalo reclaimed his shooting guard spot and Victor Oladipo took over at point guard but wound up having his hands full against Rajon Rondo.
After his career game, Harris made it sound as if individual achievements were anything but a top priority for him.
"I just want to go out there and win," he said.
When Harris, Davis and Vucevic all started for a stretch of five games around Christmas, the results were mixed. The run included consecutive victories over Detroit and Atlanta in which Vucevic had games of 20 points with 11 rebounds and 16 points with 14 rebounds. But there was also a loss at home to Utah where the Magic shot a season-low 32.6 percent from the floor and a game where the New York Knicks rolled up 65 points by halftime.
Vucevic’s first game back saw him record 16 points and 10 rebounds in only 20 minutes against the Raptors. His minutes are bound to increase as his conditioning improves, although all indications suggest Kyle O’Quinn will continue to have a prominent role coming off the bench.
O’Quinn averaged more than a blocked shot a game while Vucevic was out and followed that up with four more rejections in 14 minutes at Toronto. While Davis takes up a lot of space inside, shot-blocking is not his forte. He had a total of two in the dozen games he started at center.
Only the Sacramento Kings and the Minnesota Timberwolves are averaging fewer blocks than the Magic. Oddly enough, their high game all season came while Vucevic was out and they swatted away 12 shots Jan. 2 in an overtime loss at Cleveland.
Until hurting his left knee in the first quarter against the Bucks, Nelson had gone 35 of 38 from the free-throw line in January. He has made 88.2 percent of his attempts this season, almost equaling his career high of 88.7 percent set in 2008-09. The franchise single-season record is 91.1 percent, set in 1999-2000 by Darrell Armstrong and tied in 2011-12 by J.J. Redick.
Maurice Harkless was able to put together back-to-back strong showings off the bench for the first time in weeks. He finished with 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 26 minutes against the Bucks and had nine points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals in 21 minutes at Boston. Despite averaging less than 22 minutes a game this season, Harkless is second on the team to Oladipo in total steals.
Going into Monday night at Indiana, Andrew Nicholson had played more than nine minutes once over the Magic’s last seven games. Although his rebounding average is up from his rookie season, his scoring average is down from 7.8 to 6.6 points per contest, which could explain why he wasn’t picked to join Oladipo in New Orleans next weekend for the NBA’s annual Rising Stars Challenge involving first-year and second-year players. Nicholson was part of the game last year.
Davis had only three rebounds in almost 33 minutes Sunday against his former team, extending his streak of games with seven rebounds or fewer to nine.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"He’s put the game in a special place right now where it’s global, it’s fan-friendly, it’s beneficial to players and owners. And it’s great to be a part of. So it’s a great legacy that he’s leaving behind." — Vaughn on David Stern, who retired Saturday as commissioner of the NBA after exactly 30 years in charge. Stern’s first decade included the selection of Orlando as one of four cities where the league expanded. Adam Silver succeeds him.
"I want to play every minute right now." — Afflalo, after the Magic’s 24-point lead through three quarters against the Bucks resulted in him getting the entire fourth quarter off. Afflalo went into the weekend averaging 37.1 minutes a game, placing him eighth in the NBA in that category.
"If they ask me to do it, I’ll do it. It would be an honor to represent the Orlando Magic in doing it." — Oladipo, on the possibility that the weekend of the All-Star Game could also include him being part of the slam dunk contest. The last time the Magic were represented came in 2009, when defending champion Dwight Howard was defeated by Nate Robinson in Phoenix.
67: The Magic established a season high for points in a half in taking a 67-46 halftime lead over the Bucks. The previous high was 66, set in the second half in defeating the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 3. Their top mark for a first half came when they scored 58 points against the Kings on Dec. 21.
4: The Magic have played at Boston on the day of the Super Bowl four times (2014, 2011, 2010 and 2003). In every case, the team representing the NFC has gone on to win the game (Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans and Tampa Bay).
3: When the Bucks scored on a putback layup with less than a minute to go, they became the third team to lose to the Magic this season despite scoring at least 100 points. The other two are the Hawks (102 points on Dec. 29) and the Lakers (105 points on Jan. 24).
THIS DAY IN MAGIC HISTORY
Feb. 4, 2009: Anthony Johnson, a guard who averaged only 5.6 points a game during a well-traveled 13-year career in the NBA, made the most of a rare start by scoring a season-high 25 points as the Magic trounced the Los Angeles Clippers 125-96. The game was their first after Nelson suffered a torn right labrum against the Dallas Mavericks, an injury which sidelined him for the rest of the regular season and prompted the acquisition of Rafer Alston in a three-way trade.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
I am honored to be joining the Puerto Rican National Team this summer in the @FIBA basketball World Cup! Vamos Puerto Rico!
Harkless will take part in the FIBA World Cup in Spain after meeting Jan. 15 with Paco Olmos, the coach of the country’s national team, before the Magic’s triple-overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls. He was born in New York City but is Puerto Rican from his mother’s side of the family.