The Orlando Magic practiced Thursday before departing for Friday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Below are the highlights from the post-practice availability session.
Magic concerned with Irving
What stands out about the Cavaliers? Magic coach Jacque Vaughn didn't hesitate in offering an answer to that question.
"Mr. [Kyrie] Irving stands out, without a doubt," said Orlando's first-year head coach. "He is an All-Star and he is playing at an unbelievably high level. Taking over games, making game-winning shots... he's a special, special point guard. And he's got them playing at a high level."
In his second season out of Duke, Irving is averaging 23.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.7 steals. What makes him such a tough cover?
"He can score," Vaughn said. "He's extremely quick. He can finish at the rim [with] both hands. And he pushes the pace. He's fearless. That's some good qualities to have."
Jameer Nelson will be tasked with defending Irving for much of Friday's game. "We just gotta try to contain him and send him to the help [defender]," Nelson said of how he plans to approach defending the 20-year-old. "He's a guy who's gonna shoot the ball and he's gonna score and get his numbers. [I] just gotta make it tough on him as much as I can."
For what other Cavaliers do the Magic need to prepare? Nelson mentioned Anderson Varejão and offered his scouting report on the Brazilian center, unaware that Varejao will miss the rest of the season due to right knee surgery and a blood clot in his lung.
When the media told Nelson about Varejao's injury, the veteran point guard defended himself by saying he doesn't read the internet or watch television.
Vaughn said that J.J. Redick (shoulder), Hedo Turkoglu (flu-like symptoms), and Arron Afflalo (calf) did not practice Thursday. Jameer Nelson (arm), Al Harrington (knee), and DeQuan Jones (foot) did participate. Despite Afflalo's absence in Thursday's practice, Vaughn still expects him to play Friday against Cleveland.
Vaughn is "not sure" if Redick will be able to play.
"We don't need anyone else going down, so any coughing can stay away from me and the rest of the players," Vaughn said of Turkoglu.
Learning from defeat
Vaughn's point of emphasis Thursday was "controlling what we can control," he said.
"There's a lot of opportunities in the course of a game where you can control, whether or not it's running hard into a screen, and running out of a screen or actually screening for a teammate, or boxing out... those things you can do every single possession. It's just a matter of willing yourself to do it, and doing it over and over again."
Some Magic players have nicknamed Vaughn the "Prince of Positivity" for his calm demeanor and optimistic outlook despite the Magic's poor play in recent weeks; Orlando has lost 22 of its last 24 games and now owns the league's third-worst record overall.
Rookie forward Maurice Harkless isn't sure how Vaughn is able to stay positive.
"If I was him, I'd be pulling my hair out," Harkless said, casting a glance across the practice floor to Vaughn, who was chatting with Nelson. "But he ain't got no hair though, so... I'd be going crazy if I was him. I don't know how he does it."
Harkless said he's benefitted from Vaughn's even-temperedness.
"It kinda helps me out a little bit," Harkless said. "To look over and see him not going crazy, it kinda calms me down a little bit when I'm out there on the court. It's a good thing that he's able to keep his poise."
Vučević to learn Rising Stars fate
Magic center Nikola Vučević learned on January 30th that the NBA's assistant coaches had selected him to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend in Houston. On Thursday, he'll learn with whom and for whom he'll be playing, as coaches Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal will draft teams from the 18-player pool at 7 PM Eastern on TNT.
In his second season out of USC, Vučević is averaging 12.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.2 blocked shots for Orlando.
The other sophomores in the Rising Stars pool are Kenneth Faried, Irving, Brandon Knight, Kawhi Leonard, Chandler Parsons, Klay Thompson, Tristan Thompson, and Kemba Walker. The rookies in the pool are Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Damian Lillard, Alexey Shved, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Zeller.
TNT will broadcast the Rising Stars Challenge at 9 PM Eastern on February 15th.
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