The Orlando Magic tipped off a three-game homestand Saturday with a come-from-behind victory over Minnesota Timberwolves at Amway Center. Though they trailed by as much as 13 points in the third quarter, Orlando battled back to take the lead for good in the fourth, with a three-pointer from Victor Oladipo at the 4:03 mark giving the hosts the lead for good.
Here's a look at the stories that developed Saturday.
War of attrition
Orlando played without Vučević, the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, owing to a sore Achilles'. That same injury made him a late scratch for Friday's loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. Not that the Timberwolves felt sorry for the Magic's losing arguably their best player: Minnesota played Saturday without All-Star power forward Kevin Love, starting shooting guard Kevin Martin, and starting center Nikola Peković, their three leading scorers. Making matters worse for them, starting swingman Chase Budinger turned his ankle less than a minute into the game and did not return.
"We're playing combinations we hadn't played before," said coach Rick Adelman. "Then you get to the fourth quarter and those things really start affecting you at that point."
Indeed, Orlando wrested from the visitors control of the game in the final period, outscoring them by a 28-15 margin and limiting them to 7-of-21 shooting, including 0-of-6 from three-point range.
Love certainly would have made a difference Saturday, and it's possible that his unexpected absence--he was initially announced as a starter--due to back spasms affected the Magic due to how central he is their defensive gameplan.
When a key player from an opposing team sits out, "it throws you off a little bit," said Magic center Kyle O'Quinn, who tallied 14 points and 13 boards for his second double-double of the season, "because you're watching film on him. But the guys you prepare for, you prepare for everybody on the team, and those [who played] are the backups. We prepared for Gorgui Dieng [and] we prepared for Ronny Turiaf. You just wipe Kevin Love off and you just go with the second gameplan and you just follow suit."
The Magic's trouble Saturday stemmed from facets of the game into which Love doesn't often factor: free-throw shooting and turnovers. The Magic's 23 turnovers yielded 30 Timberwolves points, and Minnesota attempted 28 freebies to Orlando's nine. Once the Magic tightened their grip on the ball and focused on keeping Minny off the foul line--the latter point Vaughn said he made a point of emphasis at halftime--they worked their way back into the game.
Three-point shooting, however, did make a difference in Saturday's result, and Love excels in that area: without him and Martin to spread the floor around the back-to-basket behemoth Peković, Minnesota went 1-of-15 from three-point distance. The Magic, in contrast, shot 9-of-17 from beyond the arc, with Oladipo and Maurice Harkless combining to go perfect on five triple tries.
Vučević's absence offered Orlando another glimpse at his importance to the team: entering Saturday's win, the Magic owned a 2-17 record in the games he missed in the 2013/14 season. Addressing the media before tipoff, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn stopped just short of calling the third-year center his club's most important player.
"I think for our team, where we are, everybody is needed," Vaughn said. "I'll never put it on his hands, as far as our success is concerned."
In his 57 appearances, Vučević has shot 50.7 percent from the floor for per-game averages of 14.2 points, 11 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.9 combined steals and blocks.
Dedmon makes first start
Rookie big man Dewayne Dedmon made the first start of his career in Saturday's game, stepping into Vučević's center spot in the starting lineup. In 14 minutes, the USC product posted two points, six rebounds, a steal, and three fouls.
"I thought he was really trying to do the right thing all night," said Vaughn. "He does a lot of good things in the flow of the game, whether it's just rolling extremely hard to the bucket and making the defense react on him."
Dedmon faced early foul trouble in his first start, picking up two personals in the game's opening three minutes, but he appeared to settle into a groove as the game progressed. Vaughn said he didn't "mind" either of Dedmon's early fouls because he committed them while trying to make something positive happen for the team.
Dedmon said nerves didn't contribute to either of his early fouls. Instead, he attributed them to his inclination to challenge shots when he should stay grounded, a shortcoming which he hopes to address.