Magic observations: Going big pays off against Pistons
ORLANDO, Fla. — A 4-1 preseason record alone might not signal that the Orlando Magic are ready to take on the NBA’s big boys.
But they showed Friday night in a 99-87 victory over the Detroit Pistons that going with a bigger front line than usual can pay off handsomely.
With the Pistons starting two 6-foot-11 players and the 6-9 Josh Smith at small forward, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn went with the 6-10 Kyle O’Quinn up front along with forward Tobias Harris and center Nikola Vucevic. The three of them combined for 54 points and 23 rebounds, even with Vucevic spending most of the fourth quarter on the bench after logging almost 35 minutes.
"When you play a team like that with those types of big men, you’ve got to be physical all night," said Harris, who had his best game of the preseason with a team-high 22 points and nine rebounds. "That’s what we did, and that’s why we were able to be successful tonight."
Vucevic’s 18-point effort included a soft left-handed jump hook and a dunk off a perfectly executed pick-and-roll play with newcomer Ben Gordon.
"Nik is really growing up," Vaughn said. "He’s maturing. He’s older. He’s wiser. He’s played these guys more than a few times now. And that’s learning the league."
Here are five other observations from the wire-to-wire win:
1. Stretching the floor at forward, even without Channing Frye.
Between O’Quinn and rookie Aaron Gordon, the Magic have hardly missed a beat while Frye has been recuperating from a sprained left knee he came down with during training camp.
O’Quinn nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key barely two minutes into the game and hit another one from the corner shortly thereafter following a timeout. Gordon hit one before the quarter ended to give the Magic a 32-21 lead, and he put an exclamation point on the victory with a 3 just before the final horn.
"From all over the floor, I’m much more comfortable shooting the ball," said Gordon, who is now 4-for-8 from long range. "I’m just letting it go."
Vaughn was more impressed early when the first-round draft pick was unguarded in the corner but chose to drive the baseline and finish it off with an emphatic dunk.
"He could have shot an open 3," he said. "But the mindset of attacking the paint and getting the shot that he wants, that’s growth. And that’s just in Game 5."
2. The rookie and the vet together at the point.
Point guards Elfrid Payton and Luke Ridnour turned in strong first-half performances while being on the floor at completely different times. Vaughn chose to use them together for the final 7:43, and their effectiveness helped the Magic pull away.
"It gives us the ability to have multiple ball-handlers on the floor," Vaughn said. "I wanted to give Luke a good run tonight, get some good wind underneath him."
Ridnour hit both of his 3-point attempts in the first half and wound up playing 24 minutes in all. Payton played a turnover-free first half and finished with a game-high eight assists in 32 minutes.
"He’s got a good feel for the game," Ridnour said. "He does a lot of things that won’t always show up on the stat sheet. But he gets the team in the right position. And for a young guy, that’s big."
3. It’s a start for Evan Fournier — a rough start.
Evan Fournier’s night began and ended with him getting shots swatted out of bounds by Pistons center Andre Drummond.
In between, the player who was acquired in the trade which sent Arron Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets struggled to get going. Fournier finally broke into the scoring column in the third quarter with a putback of Harris’ miss from 3-point range and knocked down a 3-pointer a few minutes later after O’Quinn found him open in the left corner.
"I wasn’t nervous. But I was thinking about it," he said about wanting to make a good first impression in his new surroundings.
4. Free throws aren’t free.
The Magic won despite taking, and making, only six free throws the entire game. They made up for that by going 9-for-20 from 3-point range and holding the Pistons to 37.5 percent shooting overall.
Neither Payton nor Fournier got to the line once. The same went for Aaron Gordon, who played a total of 33 minutes off the bench.
5. A night off for four.
Vaughn didn’t play Willie Green, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson or rookie Devyn Marble, which means all four should see extensive action Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers in Allentown, Pa.
It was the second game in a row in which Harkless was not used after the third-year pro had averaged almost 24 minutes in their first three contests. Green and Nicholson were in the starting lineup Wednesday night and combined for 21 points.
Dewayne Dedmon, who will back up Vucevic, saw very little action until O’Quinn fouled out with 4:51 remaining and the Magic up 90-80.