Oladipo, Vucevic take liking to Magic’s faster-paced offense
ORLANDO, Fla. — To longtime followers of the Orlando Magic, Nik and Vic ought to roll off the tongue as easily as Shaq and Penny once did.
The roll that this center-guard combination has been on the past three games should be something worth talking about as well.
Both Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo are averaging more than 27 points a game since the Magic went away from more of a halfcourt offense and began emphasizing a faster pace. Not only were they able to defeat the Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets, but the posting of at least 120 points in back-to-back games was a feat which hadn’t been accomplished by the franchise since the final season of the Shaquille O’Neal-Penny Hardaway era in February 1996.
Fittingly, a three-point play in the final minute Wednesday night by Vucevic resulting from an Oladipo assist enabled the Magic to hold off the Rockets for good.
"If we can keep playing that same way, it’s going to be good for us," Vucevic said after his 25-point, 12-rebound performance in the 120-113 victory. "But at the same time, we’ve got to be careful and not have careless turnovers or trying to make big plays. We’ve got to be smart. But it definitely makes the game easier."
Vucevic, whose 24 double-doubles are the most of anyone in the NBA this season, is shooting 64.1 percent from the floor during the Magic’s offensive resurgence. Oladipo has bounced back from a 6-of-21 shooting performance Saturday night in a loss at Portland to hit 63.9 percent of his shots, including six of eight 3-point attempts.
"It’s a nice way to play," the second overall pick in the 2013 draft said. "I think I’m effective when we play this way. So hopefully we keep doing that. And I’ve just got to keep playing with confidence."
Despite taking a couple of falls against the Rockets where he got up hobbling noticeably, Oladipo continued to attack the rim with authority. His slam off a slick wrap-around pass by Elfrid Payton which gave the Magic a 100-98 lead was just as highlight-worthy as Vucevic’s throwdown over Pau Gasol in Chicago two nights earlier.
Although the Rockets finished the game with more points in the paint and fast-break points, the Magic recorded season-highs in steals (14) and points off turnovers (26). As much as anything, that was a reflection of the roles of Oladipo and Payton, who have been the starting guards for the past 13 games.
"It took a lot of pressure off VO and Elfrid trying to make plays all the time," forward Channing Frye said. "Now they can make plays in the halfcourt when they need to, but I think they’re just transition guys. And having two guys that can attack the rim like that is tough for teams."
Added Vucevic: "Elfrid and Victor did a great job doing that, and we’re just following behind them. Once we started doing that and we saw that it works, everybody just bought into it."
In their last home game before Wednesday night, the Magic managed only 29 points in the first half and heard more than a smattering of boos late in the second quarter. They had 29 points by the end of the first quarter against the Rockets, and those in attendance made their appreciation known – especially during a fourth quarter where the Magic were 13 of 19 from the floor and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.
"It was a very intense fourth quarter," Vucevic said. "You could tell both teams really wanted it. And it was great also for the fans. They were there for us and got us pumped."
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was every bit as pleased with what Vucevic gave the Magic defensively against Dwight Howard as what the center did on offense. Howard was held to six field-goal attempts and one offensive rebound in a first half where the Magic led by as many as 12 points.
"He really took the challenge on," Vaughn said. "I thought he was great in getting Dwight off his spot early on in the game."
Not since February 1991 have the Magic scored 120 or more points three games in a row. Their opponent Friday night, the Memphis Grizzlies, hasn’t given up more than 117 points all season – and that was in an overtime game against the Rockets.
But with the way Vucevic and Oladipo are playing of late, anything is possible.
"It benefits Nik," Oladipo said. "He’s a great rim-runner. He’s a great player. We need him to play well in order for us to win."
"Overall he’s playing with great confidence and a great rhythm right now," Vaughn said of Oladipo. "This year was a tough start for him, but I think he’s settling into the Vic that we thought he could be."