The Orlando Magic snapped their 12-game losing streak on Sunday night by defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, 110-104. Reserve guard J.J. Redick returned to the lineup after a three-game absence to lead the Magic with 22 points, while backup big man Gustavo Ayón added 16 points, 11 boards, six assists, a steal, and a blocked shot. Jameer Nelson set a new career-high with 15 assists. In short, the Magic won thanks to great individual performances.
Several numbers from Sunday's game jump off the stat sheet, but perhaps none moreso than Damian Lillard's field-goal shooting. The 22-year-old, arguably the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year honors, shot 1-of-16 from the floor for four points in 40 minutes. Though he did dish 12 assists, he also committed four turnovers.
Before the game, coach Jacque Vaughn said containing Lillard in his pick-and-roll action would be a priority. "We have to keep those under control," Orlando's coach said.
"I just tried to stick in front of him as much as I can," Jameer Nelson said of his approach to defending Lillard, "and rely on my help. He had some good looks he just missed. I think we took him out of his rhythm a bit by keeping two [defenders] on the ball at times."
"I try to contain him as much as we can," Magic center Nikola Vucevic said of his responsibility on Lillard's pick-and-rolls. "He's a very good player and he's pretty fast, so he's hard to really stop. Just try to contain him and try to make him shoot over big guys. It's a tough shot. You try to keep him out of the lane and not let him drive as much."
Lillard, for his part, didn't think the Magic's defense affected him very much.
"They played me the same way they played me the last time," Lillard said, referring to his 18-point performance against Orlando on January 7th. "I came off and got some looks at the rim. A couple of second-chance points they threw it out to me and I got wide open looks and they didn't go. They just didn't fall for me."
Gustavo's big night
Ayón played arguably the best game of his career on Sunday, with his across-the-board contributions, detailed above, helping lift Orlando to victory.
"He does some special things," Vaughn said.
"He played phenomenal and hopefully he can continue playing and help the team out," said Nelson.
Both men credited Ayón for playing hard and well despite not having seen many minutes in recent games. The 32 he logged Sunday is more than he'd played in the Magic's last four games combined, and he did not play at all in Friday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"The NBA is like that," Ayón said via a translator, "and you have to forget about the game before. You have to think about the game that's coming up. Be positive and be ready for the next game coming up."
Ayón's meeting with the media was delayed until a Magic staffer who could translate for him arrived in Orlando's locker room. Ayón, a native of Mexico, understands English, but prefers to speak in Spanish.
An honor for Nicholson
The news that the NBA selected Andrew Nicholson to replace Andre Drummond in the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge took Vaughn by surprise. "Where'd you get that from? Who broke that story?" Vaughn said before the game, when the media asked him about the selection.
Nicholson and Vucevic will both play in the game, scheduled for Friday at 9 PM on TNT.
"Two Orlando Magic players being represented at the All-Star Game," Vaughn said. "Pretty good, pretty good."
Vaughn declined to offer any advice to his young bigs, who will play for opposing teams in the game. Nicholson replaces Drummond on Team Shaq, while Charles Barkley drafted Vucevic for Team Chuck.
Drew's All-Star deal with Vuč
Vucevic and Nicholson struck a deal, according to Vucevic, regarding the Rising Stars Challenge, and it's not exactly what one might expect.
"If he guards me or if I guard him, we're gonna let each other score," Vucevic said. "We're not gonna get the ball, probably, a lot because we're big men and it's more of a guard game. If we get the ball, we already made a deal: I gotta let him score once and he has to let me score once. We'll go from there after that."
Vucevic and Nicholson are the first Magic teammates to play in a Rising Stars game. Both Dwight Howard and Nelson were selected in 2006, but Nelson did not play due to injury.
E'Twaun feeling better
Backup guard E'Twaun Moore finished Sunday's game with four points, a rebound, and an assist in 10 minutes. More notable than his statistical performance is the fact that he didn't wear a brace on his left elbow, which he sprained in Orlando's loss to the Washington Wizards on December 28th. He missed seven games to recover from that injury, but he had worn a brace in each of his appearances since returning to the lineup.
"It's good," Moore said of his elbow. "I've got no problems. It's my first time I played without my elbow brace and it felt a lot looser."
Moore initially came out with nothing on his elbow, but later checked in wearing a white compression sleeve. "Just trying something to see how it feels, but it's fine," Moore said. "I don't need nothin'.
Moore entered Sunday's game having shot just 36.4 percent from the floor since returning to the lineup wearing the brace. He went 2-of-4 without it on Sunday.
"The brace at first was a little heavy, but we'll see how I do the next few games since I don't have the brace," said Moore when asked about his shooting slump. The Purdue product said that the All-Star Break will help his elbow and his legs
Magic forward Hedo Türkoğlu missed his third straight game Sunday, and his 40th overall on the season. A bout with the flu sidelined him for Orlando's losses to the L.A. Clippers on Wednesday and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, but it was a different issue that kept him out Sunday.
Türkoğlu had a sore back and sat on the bench in street clothes, despite being listed on the Magic's active roster. When Vaughn addressed the media about 75 minutes before tipoff, he said he did not know if Türkoğlu would be available to him.