Friday, November 2, 2012

Season #24 Off to 'Golden' Start

There’s my ‘nugget’ joke out the way for the year. How about this, NBA universe? Jacque Vaughn didn't have to wait long for his first NBA head coaching victory as Orlando is 1-0 after defeating the Denver Nuggets 102-89 on opening night. Glen Davis finished with a remarkable 29 points, two blocks and 10 rebounds that included a Dwight Howard-like putback one-handed tomahawk jam. Off the bench, J.J. Redick flexed his 6th Man of the Year credentials as he poured in 21 points and 6 assists off the bench. I'll go out on a limb and say Orlando won't see a double digit losing streak this 2012-2013 campaign. Entering Friday night, the major concern with this Orlando squad was team defense. What better way to test yourself than to face-off against George Karl's Denver offense that led the league last season in points per game, 2nd in field goal percentage, and fastbreak points. What Orlando lacks in blocking capabilities they more than make up in help rotations and active hands. With his Head Coach at Kansas attending the Amway Center event, Jacque Vaughn must have felt a little nervous and inspired with Roy Williams observing to try and impress against Karl. Richie Adubato promoted his 3 Es: Early, Energy, Enthusiasm. All three of those were on full display as Denver's size advantage proved useless in the end. 

Coach Vaughn on his Magic men tonight: "On any given possession you don't know who is going to have the ball, who is going to shoot it, and that's okay with us." 

Arron Afflalo was the only healthy former Nugget from last season available to play tonight, so Arron had a little extra attention on him. Afflalo's first official Magic game saw Arron fight through a rough shooting night and manage 7 points and 6 rebounds. Al Harrington will hopefully recover from his knee surgery by the end of November. Speaking of health, or lack thereof, Hedo Turkoglu broke his left hand in the 3rd quarter. It's a crushing veteran blow as 'Turkey Dance' will be further reevaluated in the coming days. In 17 minutes, Turkoglu posted 6 points and 2 steals on an uncharacteristically efficient 3-of-4 shooting. Turkoglu was active on defense and moved wonderfully off the ball. I'm no doctor, but you'd imagine Hedo is out a few weeks at minimum. 

More Coach Vaughn: "Everyone that stepped into the game contributed, and that's fun basketball." 

Midway through the first quarter, Orlando found themselves on a 12-0 run to gain an 18-9 advantage at that point. On one play late in the initial twelve minutes I spotted Hedo actually making a backdoor cut. Almost had to rub my eyes. O-Town led 29-18 after one period to a loud ovation from the paying attendees. Magic fans would stay loud and proud throughout the night. Scoring won't be a problem if your first 11 made field goals come from 8 assists. Denver likes to play uptempo all the time, well the Magic beat them at their own game. Leading 38-22 fourteen and a half minutes into the contest signified that. JJ Redick had 13 points in just ten minutes of play in that instant. Since DeQuan Jones and Maurice Harkless were out injured, Coach Vaughn found himself stretching out his perimeter options. With Turk out, now it'd be superb timing if even just one of Jones or Harkless could play against the Suns in a few days. Jameer and E'Twaun Moore played a decent amount of minutes together in the backcourt. Vaughn even combined Ish Smith and Moore to end the second quarter. Then you saw Redick and Afflalo cohesively bonding at SG and SF. Josh McRoberts put in beyond valuable production with Gustavo Ayon nursing a sprained left thumb. 'McBob' shocked everyone and upped his trade value by posting 9 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. The result of too many Denver (36 FG%) jumpers combated with Orlando (57 FG%) sharing the rock at will was a 58-37 Magic halftime lead. 15 points each for Redick and Baby at the break. 
Glen Davis about the low-win predictions: "Opinions are like buttholes. Everyone has one. Some of them stink."

The entire evening was a masterful display of Jacque Vaughn fabulously sprinkling in a starter or two with the bench unit. Inevitably, Denver made a run to begin the 3rd period. Hedo being out and Jameer constantly re-aggravating a left leg/quad injury during the contest gave the Nuggets a bit of hope. Nelson still more than held his own against the newly extended Ty Lawson. 'Mighty Mite' finished with 9 points and 7 assists. Nik Vucevic receive two completely undeserved fouls that were truly blocks on Danilo Gallinari and found himself in foul trouble. Call it the Dick Bavetta effect. However, Nik's foul woes did give Andrew Nicholson his chance to debut. Danilo's flailing and faking earned him way to many undeserved free throw attempts. Despite George Karl's squad fighting back, Orlando took a 78-68 cushion into the final period. The Redick-Baby pick-and-roll seems to be a Vaughn playbook favorite. 
J.J. Redick reflecting on tonight: "It was nice to just play basketball and have the game plan be the focus."

The 4th quarter found the Magic putting Denver on the fence with amped up energy and intensity. The casual O-Town fan didn't know who E'Twaun Moore was coming into the evening. Well that changed with some fancy dribbling and precision shooting. Next thing you know, Moore makes Ish sweat with a 13-point, 5-rebound, and 3-assist effort by the former Boston Celtic. An offensive rebound and immediate score helps too. Andrew Nicholson's first career points came during this stretch off his own offensive board and putback. Andrew learned a lot defending Gallinari, Faried, McGee, and swatting Koufos. Somewhere around the 6-minute mark when McRoberts threw down a phenomenal alley oop from Jameer, and when Afflalo sped past 4 Nuggets to put the Magic up 95-77 that Denver looked completely winded and tired. Orlando had run Karl's team into the ground. Vaughn's continuous substitutions paid off and the Nuggets players were frantically seeking oxygen tanks. The Heat should thank us, as they get an exhausted Nuggets squad on Saturday. This Magic victory felt amazing for the players and even Coach Vaughn who graciously waved to George Karl as they exited the parquet floor. Jameer congratulated Jacque in the locker room by awarding the Head Coach with the locker room after the win. It's tough not to overreact after just one win, but man was that a magnificent 1-0 beginning. Savor it, Magic fans. Orlando takes on Phoenix Sunday evening at 6 p.m. I'm sure there are a lot of tickets available at the Amway Center ticket office. If you have the time and the wallet size, go check these guys out.

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