Orlando hushed initial doubts on Friday to claim victory in their season opener against a strong Denver side. Could they repeat similar success on Sunday against a wildcard Phoenix squad? Well the Magic's 132-game sellout streak may have came to an end, but not their small win streak. Orlando pulled out some trickery and hard-nosed 61-26 run to complete the improbable and come from behind and destroy Phoenix 115-94. Jacque Vaughn called it a "character test". Well, Coach Vaughn and the gang passed with flying colors after some initial adversity. Glen Davis fought through foul trouble and built his All-Star case. 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals and a smack in the back of the head made for another exhausting evening of work for Big Baby. Nik Vucevic poured in 18 points, 13 boards, and 3 assists. Arron Afflalo bounced back from a 3-for-13 debut to show focused anger and pure energy on his way to a 22-point, 4-rebound performance. Afflalo on numerous occasions trucked past multiple Sun defenders. J.J. Redick boosted the bench with 24 points and 6 assists. Jacque Vaughn is 1-0 with a Nelson-Afflalo-Turkoglu-Davis-Vucevic starting five. Don't anticipate that lineup to be together for a lengthy period of time. The loss of Hedo Turkoglu to a broken left hand and Jameer Nelson (groin and ankle) forced Jacque Vaughn to depend more on his youthful bench. Nelson is day-to-day while Hedo is out at least a month after having surgery on Saturday. 2nd-year NBA player E'Twaun Moore and rookie DeQuan Jones, two players that Jacque Vaughn has been most appreciative of for their preseason and training camp efforts, received the nod to start at point guard and small forward. Their first career NBA starts as well. Talk about 'baptism by fire'.
The result? A 2-0 record to begin the 2012-2013 campaign. Moore struggled early but finished with a more than respectable 15 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 3 rebounds. Maurice Harkless was in a suit once again, but Gustavo Ayon debuted in Magic pinstripes to the relief of Orlando's frontcourt depth. Harkless is almost completely back from sports hernia surgery, while 'Goose' played despite having his sprained left thumb wrapped up. DeQuan isn't 100% percent even as he received his dream start guarding Michael Beasley. The Miami Hurricane was unavailable in the home opener with a thigh/hip abductor muscle strain suffered late in the preseason. The Orlando community has been fully supporting DeQuan ever since training camp ensued and hoped adrenaline and excitement would mask any discomfort that the high-leaping 6'8" wing encountered. Well Jones made the roster to his sheer enthusiasm, and began his first regular season contest sooner than even he could have predicted. Jones' start in the second game of the season is the quickest a Magic rookie has started in their career since Dwight Howard did in 2004.
Coach Vaughn on the comeback: "I just think we focused a little bit more. This was a gutsy effort by the men in that locker room, and I'm extremely proud of them."
Alvin Gentry's Phoenix Suns side came into Amway Center 1-1. Though their bench doesn't scare opponents, a starting lineup that includes guys like Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola, Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley, and Goran Dragic is beyond respectable. Orlando trailed 33-26 after a bad defensive beginning. Jones actually handled Beasley fairly decently. The problem came when Gustavo Ayon checked in. Goose looked constantly confused on defense while not providing much help rebounding or on offense. Ayon allowed Gortat and Scola to sneak past him baseline off the ball on several occasions. Phoenix would've been up a lot more if not for JJ Redick's 11 points in seven minutes. One of the uniformed soldiers in attendance tore one of the basket nets on a trampoline dunk attempt. That 13-minute delay may have calmed the Magic down. Arron Afflalo scored 7 points in his first ten minutes of action, already matching his output from Friday night. Josh McRoberts had another rough first half off the bench as the former Laker can't find his niche in the offense despite all the energy he plays with. 'McBob' logged a lot of minutes including some at small forward. I don't approve of Josh receiving 13 minutes in any half of basketball. Vucevic actually went toe-to-toe with the popular Gortat, but foul trouble plagued Nik early and it didn't get better when he faced Jermaine O'Neal. Jermaine should not have been as successful protecting the paint as he was. Give Nik credit though, he adjusted and got more aggressive by the close of the first half. Orlando's ball movement was severely lacking in the initial 18 minutes and reminded me of the nightmarish Rockets defeat in the Magic's final preseason contest. Replacing E'Twaun with Jameer will do that. Fortunately for Moore, he was still drilling his fair share of shots and showing off active hands on defense. Phoenix's bench held firm and actually grew their lead over the home team by double digits on a few occasions when Orlando really should have taken advantage. Despite 16 points from Scola and eleven from Beasley, Orlando only trailed 56-46 at halftime.
JJ Redick on the comeback: "Two guys set the tone, Glen and Arron...their energy in the 3rd quarter, particularly in the beginning...that was key and it got us back in the game and gave us the spark that we needed."
The start of the 3rd quarter proved just as rough for Jacque Vaughn's crew. Scola and Beasley still couldn't be stopped. Fortunately for the Magic, those were the only 2 Suns providing the scoring load. He only played 16 minutes, but least DeQuan Jones got his first NBA bucket out of the way. Then, around the time Big Baby got whacked in the back of the head, Orlando showed signs of life. What does Nik Vucevic have to do to earn a foul? Seriously. Anyway, Vucevic, Afflalo, and Davis were the main scoring forces who fueled the Magic's 15-3 comeback run to only trail 71-69 with 4:30 left in the third quarter. Amway Center would erupt on several occasions for Afflalo who would score 10 points and make their run 20-5 to snag the 74-73 lead. It'd be 25-7 after a Vucevic putback and a Moore 3-ball. Call him 3'Twaun. Magic fans were making it sound like the old O-Rena days during that glorious comeback. It's amazing what dribble penetration can open up. You'll earn more whistles in your favor from the refs as well. Going into the final period, Andrew Nicholson made it a 32-8 run and an Orlando 86-76 lead. 67 FG% in one period is a phenomenal sight to behold. Orlando a ridiculous 6-for-6 from 3-point range at that instant. Stan Van Gundy could have died a happy man at that point.
Coach Vaughn on 'not needing' Jameer Nelson tonight: "Who said we didn't need him? I'll take them all back if you can do that for me. This is our team. Each guy comes to practice every single day."
The final 12 minutes found Andrew Nicholson continuing to bully the hell out of Markieff Morris. The extra strength training is paying off for the Bonnie. Orlando's intensity proved too frustrating for Phoenix. A very pleasant and refreshing new team image developing you would hope under Coach Vaughn. Combine that with out-rebounding and out-assisting opponents, it's very difficult not to love this new Magic squad. Once 'Redickulous' drilled a banking 3-pointer, it was game over for Phoenix. It's very encouraging that Nik beat Gortat in the duel as Vucevic's double-double was better than Marcin's. What stood out most to me was Nik's outrageous game-best plus-minus of +26. When 'Vucci Mane' was on the court, great things happened. Any time your team can shoot a ridiculous 9-of-11 from 3-point range, no game will be out of reach. Orlando is 2-0 at home, to a large chunk of the NBA watching world's amazement. Now can they carry that success on the road? Tuesday and Wednesday will see a Bulls-Timberwolves back-to-back. Keep protecting Amway Center while looking semi-decent on the road, and you can start whispering about Jacque Vaughn having a chance at some Coach of the Year votes. Overreacting I know, but it's tough to contain yourself through such a surprisingly exciting start to a new era in this Magic franchise. Also, if Jamal Crawford ever starts calming down for the Clippers, JJ Redick will be receiving a vast chunk of 6th Man of the Year votes. Redick may get sick of all the free Subway 'sub' sandwiches he'll earn this season for his stellar bench play.