ORLANDO, Fla. — As a reward for coming back sooner than expected from a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee, Solomon Jones got the chance to try defending Dirk Nowitzki, who’s on the verge of moving into 15th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Some reward, huh?
But with the Orlando Magic already without both Glen Davis and Tobias Harris and then not having Kyle O’Quinn available Saturday night against Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, the return of Jones gave coach Jacque Vaughn another option at power forward or center. And the former star at South Florida and native of nearby Mount Dora was thrilled to be in uniform less than three weeks after getting injured at Minnesota.
“It felt good to be back on the floor,” Jones said. “Being away from my teammates and not being able to participate for about two or three weeks … It would have been a little bit better if we had gotten the win.”
The 6-foot-10 veteran, who has kicked around with several teams here and overseas, was matched up against Nowitzki late in the first quarter and to begin the second quarter.
Vaughn also brought him back with 8:45 remaining and the Magic down 89-82, although Mavs coach Rick Carlisle took out Nowitzki shortly thereafter.
When Jones’ injury was diagnosed some 24 hours after an overtime loss Oct. 30 to the Timberwolves, it was feared he might require surgery. After he got an MRI, the medical opinion was that he should take time off and waiting until the swelling went down while continuing to stay in shape with his regular exercise regimen.
Jones learned last week that surgery would not be needed.
“It was a great relief,” he said. “I’ve never been cut open before, and I wasn’t looking forward to that.”
While the rest of the team traveled to Atlanta and Boston for games the previous weekend, Jones stayed back in Orlando to rehab the knee. He did not dress Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, a game in which O’Quinn turned his right ankle.
“It felt better these past couple days, so it looks like we’re going to give it a go,” Jones said. “And here I am.”
Vaughn spoke highly of the conscientious work attitude of Jones, who beat out second-round draft pick Romero Osby for a roster spot at the end of the preseason. Osby now plays for the Maine Red Claws, the D-League affiliate of the Boston Celtics.
“He was in shape from the beginning, and so his time away gave him an easy transition after missing a little time to get back on the floor,” Vaughn said. “His teammates have extreme confidence in him, as do I.”
Jones will probably encounter a challenge similar to the one he faced against the Mavs during the Magic’s two games this week with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. Chris Bosh doesn’t attempt as many 3-pointers as Nowitzki but still has exceptional shooting range for someone of his height.
“They’ve got great players all around the board,” Jones said. “It’s not going to be one person stopping one person — Chris Bosh, LeBron, D-Wade. We’re going to have to do it together. We’re going to have to trust each other on defense.”
Maxiell, Nicholson back in the flow
The biggest statistical oddity from the 94-91 victory over the Bucks was that Jason Maxiell, who has started all 10 games at power forward in Harris’ absence, never played after the opening 4:38. The Bucks raced out to a 15-9 lead with the lighter but quicker Khris Middleton matched up against Maxiell, and Vaughn wasted little time bringing guard E’Twaun Moore off the bench.
“I like to make that first move,” Vaughn said. “We’ll always try to dictate. Sometimes you just have to adjust.”
Both Maxiell and Andrew Nicholson were averaging more than 22 minutes of playing time through the Magic’s first eight games. Nicholson was just as much of a non-factor against the Bucks as Maxiell, getting taken out for good with 10:35 to go in the second quarter not long after converting a missed layup by Victor Oladipo into two points.
Maxiell had seven points and four rebounds through three quarters in the 108-100 loss to the Mavs. While Nicholson also returned to something close to his average number of minutes, the game marked the first of the season in which he did not attempt a 3-point field goal. Nicholson was 4 of 8 from that range through the first three games but has gone 0 of 10 since.
Guard Ronnie Price, who logged more playing time against the Bucks than he had all season, was never used by Vaughn against Dallas.
Vucevic doesn’t mind the Heat
With the Heat having not been held to less than 100 points in any of their games so far, the Magic know they will have their hands full this week against the two-time defending NBA champions.
But the Heat probably aren’t looking forward to the sight of Magic center Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic averaged 21.7 points and 21 rebounds in three games against the Heat last season. Two of his four 20-point, 20-rebound performances in his first year with the Magic came at the Heat’s expense. That included a game in Orlando where he broke the franchise record for rebounds with 29.
Vucevic missed the Heat’s most recent visit due to a concussion.
He turned in a fifth 20-20 effort two weeks ago with 30 points and 21 rebounds against the Los Angeles Clippers. That was the game that caused TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley to question the toughness of the Clippers and, not surprisingly, butcher the pronunciation of Vucevic’s name.
Vucevic finished with 16 points and eight rebounds against the Mavs but took only four shots during a first half in which the Magic trailed by as many as 15 points.
In addition to their two meetings with the Heat, the Magic will host the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. After getting off to a surprising 5-2 start under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek, who played for the Suns from 1986 to 1992 before being part of the trade which brought Barkley to Phoenix, the team that was projected by many to be the worst in the Western Conference this season has begun to struggle.