With almost one month of the regular season completed, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Michael Carter-Williams and the Orlando Magic’s Victor Oladipo have emerged as the leading candidates for 2013-14 NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
Carter-Williams probably leads that race.
But Oladipo and his teammates made sure Oladipo at least has a 1-0 edge in NBA games against Carter-Williams. Big contributions by Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, Nik Vucevic and Oladipo propelled the Magic to a 105-94 win over the 76ers at Amway Center.
“We’re slowly but surely building chemistry,” Oladipo said.
The win may have come at a price, though.
Jameer Nelson injured his left foot midway through the second quarter and didn’t return to the game. Doctors will reevaluate Nelson’s foot, but the initial diagnosis was a sprain, a team spokesman and coach Jacque Vaughn said.
“Hopefully, it won’t be too serious,” Afflalo said.
Oladipo would handle the bulk of the point guard duties if Nelson has to sit out games.
The rookie — a natural shooting guard making the transition to initiating a team’s offense — impacted every area of the box score against Philly. He finished with 18 points, three rebounds, five assists, five steals and eight turnovers.
“I’m putting him into situations to see how he responds to different things,” Vaughn said. “We want all that to add up and for him to keep learning from the situations. And he might have another eight-, nine-, 10-turnover night. But he is a stalwart at coming back the next day with confidence and ready to do his job.”
Carter-Williams countered with 23 points, four rebounds, three assists, four steals and two turnovers.
Yet, despite the rookies’ nights, Vucevic and Davis wound up carving and snacking on the Thanksgiving turkey that Fox Sports Florida provided.
Vucevic spent his rookie season with the Sixers before the team included him in the 12-player trade in Aug. 2012 that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers and Andrew Bynum to the Sixers.
On Wednesday, Vucevic reminded Philly about its mistake.
He tallied 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He also gathered 16 rebounds and distributed five assists.
Vucevic insists he harbors no ill will toward the Sixers. Why should he? After all, the trade worked out great for him. In Philly, he struggled to earn consistent minutes. In Orlando, team officials regard him as one of the cornerstones of their rebuilding project.
“It’s part of the business,” Vucevic said when asked about the trade.
“I approach it like every other game. It’s not like I was a huge superstar and then they traded me away. I was just a rookie and they brought in one of the best big men in the league [Bynum]. That’s it. I didn’t really have any hard feelings towards Philly for trading me.”
In just his fourth game back since he fractured a bone in his left foot on Jan. 30, Davis played almost 35 minutes and seemed to be in good condition.
He scored 19 points and corralled five rebounds.
“It’s a process,” he said. “I’m not sitting out a whole year. I’m really proud of myself, really, with the way I’ve been playing. But I still feel like I can do a little bit more on both sides of the ball. I’m not getting enough rebounds.”
Afflalo scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.
But Oladipo provided the dagger.
With Philly threatening, he swished a 3-pointer that extended Orlando’s lead to 98-89 with 3:03 left.
“That was the killer,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
And it was the basket that ensured Oladipo’s Magic would beat Carter-Williams’ Sixers.
They are friends. But they could develop an on-court rivalry in the years ahead.
Round One went to the Magic rookie.
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