The Orlando Magic took the Amway Center practice floor Monday fresh off a surprising victory against the Brooklyn Nets, which win improved Orlando's record to 2-2. Here's a look at the stories that developed.
Good start a reason for optimism
Hot starts aren't new for the Magic, who went 2-2 at the beginning of the 2012/13 season and famously had a 12-13 record before losing 49 of their next 57 games. However, there is a sense around the team that this 2-2 start is a little more real than last year's.
"I think overall we've bee playing pretty well regardless," Magic swingman Arron Afflalo said Sunday evening following the victory over Brookyn. "It's only four games in but the goal is to keep it going." He noted that Orlando's first two wins last year came against the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, who "weren't necesarily the best defensive teams." In contrast, Orlando has soundly beaten two playoff contenders to start the 2013/14 campaign, and has held both foes below 40 percent shooting from the floor.
Magic center Kyle O'Quinn thinks a better commitment to coach Jacque Vaughn's gameplan has helped the team.
"We're sticking to what we've been doing; we're not straying away from it," O'Quinn said. He added that last year the team deviated from what Vaughn asked of it: "We were trying to find out any which way to win and it didn't work for us. This year, we're just taking what coach says because he's the coach and he has the gameplan to win."
For his part, Vaughn believes that the team's collective experience has helped it grow. Monday morning, Vaughn attributed the strong start to "a comfort level with each other." His players agreed.
"Guys are comfortable playing with each other," point guard Jameer Nelson said, "so that helps."
Orlando center Nikola Vučević and swingman Maurice Harkless believe the team's improved defense has played a role in the young season: "I think we're a lot better on the defensive end too," Vučević said. "We're more vocal and more aggressive." Harkless described Orlando's defense as "more locked-in," and said that the team has a better grasp on Vaughn's core defensive principles: "We got a little experience in the league so we kinda know the defensive schemes more. We understand it better this year," said the St. John's product.
Vaughn isn't sure if the team's performance will sustain throughout the course of the season--"we hope so," he said--but he's confident that his team's "workmanlike and very goal-driven" approach will serve it well as the season progresses.
Nicholson's range helping Magic
Through four games, reserve power forward Andrew Nicholson has shown signs of major improvement. The second-year player is averaging 14.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in 23.8 minutes per game, soundly outpacing the starting power forward, Jason Maxiell, in each of those three categories. The addition of a three-point shot has expanded Nicholson's range and made him a more complete offensive player.
"He has a skill set that not too many people have," Nelson said Monday. "Obviously, he's a load down there on the block. There's not too many guys like that anymore, not with the moves that he has. It's kinda like an old-school game, it's kinda awkward, but it's very, very effective. And he also is a great jump-shooter."
Nelson said it was "kinda weird" not to play alongside a power forward with three-point range last year--Nicholson didn't attempt any threes as a rookie--but that the team is now reaping the rewards of the spacing Nicholson's expanded range crates.
"The spacing on the floor is different," Vaughn said. "His ability to make shots definitely will get the defense to react."
Nicholson missed all three of his triple-tries Sunday, but Vaughn said they were "great looks" and that the team "will continue to encourage him to shoot 'em. The St. Bonaventure product is 4-of-11 (36.4 percent) from beyond the arc to date, with all 11 of those attempts coming from the corners.
Magic rookie Victor Oladipo made a sensational play Sunday with a 360-degree slam dunk. With a smile, Afflalo said Monday that his new teammate may have benefitted from a no-call from the officials.
"I think he traveled," Afflalo said of the dynamic guard. "I watched the replay. I don't know how you take one dribble from halfcourt and make a 360, but he's extremely athletic."
Harris "out indefinitely"
Orlando has managed a .500 record so far without Tobias Harris in the lineup. Harris, the combo forward who led the Magic in scoring in 2012/13, sprained his ankle in a preseason game and won't be back for a while.
Vaughn said Monday that Harris is "out indefinitely" and that the team would monitor his progress as he goes through his rehabilitation "protocols."
John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com said Saturday that the Magic expect Harris to miss "weeks" with the injury.