At some point during the first half of Thursday’s game, Nikola Vucevic will officially learn if he has become a first-time All-Star.
Most believe he will be just that, as he enters the Magic’s match-up against the Pacers averaging career-highs in points (20.7), rebounds (12.0), assists (3.8), blocks (1.2), and three-point percentage (37.7 percent). Vucevic, in his eighth season, is one of only five players this season averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, with the others all being star players: including All-Star starters Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid, and elite big men Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The reserves will be announced beginning at 7 p.m. on TNT.
If Vooch is selected, he will become Orlando’s first All-Star since 2012 when, the player that Vucevic was traded for, Dwight Howard, earned his sixth and final selection as a member of the Magic.
Vucevic got little support from the fan voting, which comes as no surprise whatsoever for a big man on a small market team that is outside the playoff picture and gets little to no national exposure. Coaches, though, select the reserves and handed in their picks on Tuesday. Some coaches have already publicly praised Vucevic for having an All-Star caliber season, and based on his frontcourt competition, there is a pretty good chance Vooch will be in Charlotte on February 17.
Said Vucevic: "I’m sure it'll be emotional for me, but I’m gonna do my best to not let it affect my game & take away from the game b/c that’s the most important thing for us. If I find out during the game, I’m sure there will be emotions, but I will do my best to control them."— John Denton (@JohnDenton555) January 31, 2019
If anything has lessened his chances of being selected, it would be the Magic’s recent slide, which has sent Orlando spiraling closer to the league’s top-five worst records than the eighth spot in the playoffs. The Magic have dropped four straight, seven of their last eight, 11 of their last 14, 16 of their last 22...you get the point.
That stretch has dropped them to a season low 11 games under .500 at 20-31, which puts them 4.5 games out of the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
They’ll face a Pacers team that has lost three straight since losing Victor Oladipo for the season. They lost to Washington 107-89 on Wednesday before boarding a flight to Orlando to complete the back-to-back.
“We’ve kind of lost our way here and we’ve got to find it,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan told reporters. “Victor is not coming back. We’ve got to move past that and not look at what we don’t have and focus on what we do have, but we got to get more energy in the game. Defensively, we’re not stopping anybody.”
The Pacers enter with an defensive rating of 104.9 points per 100 possessions, which is fourth best in the league, and an offensive rating of 109.2 points per (16th in league). Both ratings will take a hit as the season goes on without Oladipo, their leading scorer, playmaker and perimeter defender.
During their three-game losing streak, the Pacers have mustered an offensive rating of just 99.0 and produced an effective field goal percentage of just 47.6, both among the bottom three in the league in that span. Adding to that has been the absence of Tyreke Evans, who has missed the last two games because of back soreness and is questionable against the Magic. Second-year player Edmond Sumner has drawn the start in each of the Pacers last two games and shot a combined 3-for-17.
The Pacers, however, did beat the Magic, 112-90, in December without Oladipo, thanks to the hot hand of Bojan Boogdanovic (26 points, 10 of 18 shooting). Overall, Indiana has won eight straight against the Magic, and 15 of the last 16 match-ups overall, including eight consecutive games in Orlando.
If the Magic can manage a victory, they could have two reasons to celebrate: the end of a losing streak and the possible All-Star selection of their longest-tenured player.