There’s no doubt that Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn is going through the learning stages of being an NBA head coach, and he's getting help from a few veterans along the way.
The Magic visited the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night and left with a 98-84 win over the Sixers, snapping a five-game losing streak and a 10-game road losing streak.
Even more impressive was the fact that Orlando won the game without starting point guard Jameer Nelson, who was out with a strained patellar tendon in his left knee. Nelson didn’t make the trip to Philadelphia, but did receive some praise from Vaughn, who was asked about Nelson’s leadership role on the Magic.
“He’s been great,” Vaughn said. “He’s a proven veteran in this league and it’s great for our young guys to see how he prepares for a game, how he is in the locker room. Those things have been valuable when you have so many young guys in the locker room.”
Nelson has missed 13 games this season with various injuries; hence, he’s had to be a role model behind the scenes instead of on the court. Vaughn credits Nelson for being an outspoken leader, one who will talk to the first-year head coach about how the Magic can improve.
“Whether it was conversations in my office, conversations on the bench during the game at timeouts, I listen, because those are the guys that are playing out there,” Vaughn said. “And I think that’s important. We’ve, more than a few times, talked about things that can help our ball club.”
The Saint Joseph’s product is averaging 14.5 points and 7.4 assists for the Magic this season, both of which are career highs. Nelson’s had to take on more of that scoring role with the departure of Dwight Howard and with the recent trade of guard J.J. Redick.
Asked if he misses Nelson’s production, Vaughn said, “I miss all my guys. But yes, I do miss him. I’m looking forward to getting him back on the floor.”
Harkless continues to progress
Every day, every game, Maurice Harkless is continuing to impress, and Vaughn is taking notice.
The rookie forward and one-time Sixer -- for about a month and a half -- came into Tuesday’s game averaging 16.7 points and seven rebounds in his last four games. Vaughn praised Harkless for growth in the leadership department, pointing to recent moments where the 19 year old has been vocal during huddles, which he said “was great to see from a young guy.”
“Before you can make a comment,” Vaughn said, “you’ve got to know what you’re commenting about, especially when you’re around your peers in the course of a game. So, that means he’s understanding the things that we want to be done on the floor and he’s doing those things.
Told of his coach’s praise, Harkless responded: “The coaches told me they wanted me to step up and be a leader on the team, so, basically, I’m trying to do the best I can.”
Harkless finished Tuesday’s game with 10 points and four rebounds.
Asked if the win against the Sixers -- the team that drafted, then traded him -- was extra special, Harkless laughed and said, “Yeah. Definitely feels good.”
A change in Vucevic’s game
It’s no secret that Nikola Vucevic has been a dominant force on the glass this season, averaging a team-high 11.4 rebounds.
He didn’t have his best offensive game in Tuesday night, going 5 of 12 for 12 points, but the 7-foot forward-center pulled down a game-high 19 rebounds, the second time this month he’s finished with that total.
The former Sixer admitted that he put aside his offensive aspirations and keyed in on rebounding because the Magic needed it.
“I think it’s something I’ve gotten better at,” Vucevic said. “Sometimes I’m going to score, sometimes I’m not going to score, you know. But rebounding, I can always do that. I’m always there in the paint. I’m the biggest guy on my team, you know. Rebounding I can always do. I can’t let my offense dictate the way I play.”
Vucevic is averaging 16 rebounds this season in two games against the Sixers. Tuesday’s double-double was his 32nd of the season.
“I take a lot of pride in rebounding,” he said. “It’s something I think I do very well. … Sometimes, I feel like, I don’t score, but I get a lot of rebounds, that gets me going. … It’s something I take a lot of pride in and something I’m going to keep doing every game.”
Vaughn was appreciative of the Vucevic’s effort Tuesday night.
“We need that,” Vaughn said. “We’ve been stressing our smalls getting back to the boards and helping us, but he’s anchoring that and we count on him every single night.”