Coming off a 113-102 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, the Orlando Magic took the Amway Center practice floor Saturday before heading out on a two-game roadtrip to face the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers in a back-to-back set beginning Super Bowl Sunday.
Here's a look at the stories that developed Saturday.
Magic swingman Arron Afflalo said following Friday's game that his team needed to be prepared for its roadtrip because Boston and Indiana are two teams that play exceptionally physically. He expanded on that point Saturday morning.
"Both teams have guards that love to play physical," Afflalo said. "Guys like [Avery] Bradley and [Rajon] Rondo, they're really aggressive defenders. In Indiana, you've got Lance [Stephenson], Paul [George], and George Hill, and those guys are aggressive defenders. So we'll have our work cut out for us on the perimeter.
"But then those teams also have, especially Indiana, some physically imposing big guys. They're two good defensive teams."
Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn said the team can't really simulate that degree of physicality in practice, citing player health concerns, though there are "some drills" that effectively simulate game conditions. Preparing for such hard-nosed play instead requires attention to detail in the film room.
"We're just gonna have to match their physicality in order for us to be successful," Orlando rookie Victor Oladipo said.
Two or three?
Vaughn has mentioned in the past (see sidebar) that he prefers to play Afflalo at shooting guard, but the seventh-year player has slotted at small forward in recent games. Afflalo said the physical threes of Boston and Indiana will challenge him at both ends of the floor. "Defensively, those guys are physically taxing, just because they're more physical," Afflalo said of the NBA's small forwards.
At the other end, most small forwards' size presents problems for Afflalo. "To a certain degree, it kinda restricts my post game a little bit, which is a big part of my game. I just have to work around it."
Starters subject to change
Orlando entered Friday's game with all 13 of its players fully healthy, and Vaughn started a lineup of Jameer Nelson and Oladipo in the backcourt; Afflalo at small forward; and Glen Davis and Nik Vučević up front. Tobias Harris came off the bench for the second straight game. That lineup suits Vaughn's needs for now, but it is by no means settled.
"I'll continue to look at different lineups, even at this stage of the year, and see what's effective for us," Vaughn said. "The combinations, who's playing well together, and see if we can maximize that."
It's easy to understand why Vaughn likes the Nelson/Oladipo/Afflalo/Davis/Vučević quintet: according to NBA.com/stats, it has logged 126 minutes together across 11 games with an offensive rating of 101.7 and a defensive rating of 98.2. Only two other Magic lineups that have played at least 50 minutes together own positive scoring margins, and those two have appeared in just six and five games.
Orlando opened Saturday's practice by performing a complex drill which involved all 12 healthy players as well as several assistant coaches.
"We're working on pick-and-roll, pocket passing, and the extra pass to the man in the corner for the three, which is a big part of the game," Afflalo said.
In this drill, a ballhandler would maintain his dribble around a screen against defensive pressure and then fire a pocket pass to the screener as he rolled. The screener then had two options: shoot in the painted area or make the extra pass to a corner three-point shooter. Assistant coach James Borrego led the drill as Vaughn watched from midcourt.
Nelson up in the air
Vaughn did not have an update on Nelson's status for the Celtics and Pacers games. Orlando's all-time assists leader left Friday's win after the first quarter due to soreness in his left knee and did not return. He spent Saturday's practice session receiving treatment.
"We'll kinda decide after practice today," Vaughn said of Nelson's status. The coach indicated he'd speak to Nelson Saturday afternoon to determine his availability for Sunday and Monday.
In 45 appearances, all starts, Nelson has averaged 13.4 points and 6.6 assists on 53.8 percent True Shooting.