TORONTO — With 25 games remaining this season, time’s running out for Orlando Magic players to make a positive impression on coaches and front-office executives within the organization and throughout the NBA.
The next opportunity will arrive tonight, when the Magic face the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.
The Magic will infuse their starting lineup with even more youth than usual, because Arron Afflalo remained in Central Florida with a sprained right ankle and because the team recently bought out Glen Davis’ contract.
Coach Jacque Vaughn expects to start 21-year-old Victor Oladipo, 20-year-old Maurice Harkless, 21-year-old Tobias Harris and 23-year-old Nik Vucevic alongside the veteran of the group, 32-year-old Jameer Nelson.
“What I will say to them,” Vaughn said, “is when we look back 25 games from now, I want to know that we got better, and that’s the goal. So whether that’s on a day-to-day basis or game-to-game, for me sometimes that’s hour-to-hour. That’s the goal. I won’t put extra pressure on them, because contractually there’s guys that, if you do that, that adds pressure on them that way.”
Oladipo, Harkless, Harris, Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson — all former first-round picks — are still in the midst of their rookie-scale contracts, and their salaries for the 2014-15 season are guaranteed. Still, young players always are under the microscope, and the rebuilding Magic need to keep evaluating how their roster is progressing.
The Magic (17-40) and Raptors (30-25) have played once already this season. On Jan. 29 in Toronto, the Raptors made their first nine 3-pointers and won 98-83.
Tonight, Harkless will start for the first time since Jan. 15.
“Every time I’m out there it’s just an opportunity to just compete for playing time,” Harkless said. “So when I’m out there, I’ve just got to be aggressive and just try to make things happen.”
Harkless played well on Friday as the Magic beat the New York Knicks 129-121 in double-overtime. In 26 minutes, the lanky swingman scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and recorded two steals.
Davis’ departure creates added opportunities for Harris, Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn and a ripple effect throughout the rest of the roster.
It’s important for the youngsters to end the season well.
“It’s always good to finish on a strong note,” O’Quinn said. “That’s with anything. But it lets you go into the summer knowing what you’ve got to work on and things like that, and it makes the transition to next season a little easier.”
Josh Robbins covers the Orlando Magic and the NBA for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/JoshuaBRobbins. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.