Friday night's game between the Orlando Magic and the Charlotte Bobcats at Amway Center felt like a homecoming for eight members of the Bobcats' basketball operations staff.
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, associate head coach Patrick Ewing and assistant coaches Bob Beyer and Mark Price worked on Stan Van Gundy's coaching staff during Van Gundy's Magic tenure.
"If you look at the years we had here, it was a great situation and a lot of fun," Clifford said before tipoff.
The Bobcats hired Clifford during the offseason, and the team has improved under Clifford and his coaches.
After posting a 21-61 record last season and ranking last in the league in defensive efficiency, the Bobcats entered their game Friday with a 16-24 record and ranked eighth in the league in defensive efficiency.
Charlotte's basketball operations staff has an additional Magic tinge.
Adam Glessner, who was a Magic video analyst for part of Van Gundy's tenure and also last season, was brought aboard as a coaching associate. Jason Rivera, who had been the Magic's longtime equipment manager and assistant equipment manager, is now the Bobcats' head equipment manager. And one of the Bobcats' assistant coaches, Bob Weiss, was a Magic assistant coach on Matt Guokas' staff.
"To me, your staff is so critical in being able to build a culture," Clifford said. "I do feel that we've hit a tough stretch here where we haven't played as well, but I feel that we're establishing the kind of culture that you need to win big in this league. I like the way our guys are working."
Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis are the only remaining Magic players who had Clifford, Ewing, Beyer and Price as assistant coaches.
"It's one of those things that is kind of bittersweet because you know what we all went through here together and what we accomplished together," Nelson said. "But I'm also happy for those guys. They taught me a lot over my career and kind of helped me mold myself into who I am as a player and as well as off the court, too. Those guys were mentors to me.
"You sit back and you have a guy like Patrick Ewing, who had so much success as a player, you can't do anything but respect that guy just as well as the rest of those coaches on that staff."
One player on the Bobcats' roster used to play for the Magic: power forward Josh McRoberts, who appeared in 41 games for Orlando last season before the team traded him to Charlotte on Feb. 21, 2013.
McRoberts finished with 17 points, two rebounds and five assists.
Nelson on Friday apologized to anyone he offended when he did the Sam Cassell Dance after he made a clutch game-tying shot during the Magic's emotional triple-overtime loss Wednesday night to the Chicago Bulls.
The NBA fined Nelson $15,000 for the gesture, which league officials characterized as "obscene."
"First and foremost, if I offended anybody by my gesture, I apologize," Nelson said after the Magic completed their morning shootaround.
"Basketball is a game and it's fun, and sometimes you get emotional. You never see my emotions come out, but it did that game because of the game it was. It was probably one of the funnest games I've ever played in. You get emotional out there at times, and you do certain things. Like I said, if I offended anybody, I apologize. I accept the fine, and hopefully I won't get emotional again."
After Nelson made the shot — a step-back jumper over Joakim Noah that tied the score with 11.2 seconds left in regulation — he jogged back to the Magic's bench, mimicking a dance that Cassell made famous years ago. The gesture is meant to reflect that the player has enough fortitude and guts to take and make a clutch shot.
Admiring Horace Grant
Magic power forward Jason Maxiell wears No. 54 to honor his favorite player growing up, Horace Grant. Maxiell lived in Chicago for part of his childhood and loved Grant's blue-collar hard-nosed game.
"It was all the small things," Maxiell said. "He was being scrappy out there, getting grimy down low and getting physical. That's something I tried to mold myself after."
So naturally, Maxiell was excited that Grant was going to be honored by the Magic during Friday night's game.
Maxiell had never met Grant, and he hoped to introduce himself to Grant on Friday.
"Take a picture, and I'll put it on my wall," Maxiell said.
Magic rookie Victor Oladipo was asked if he had ever scored 35 points in any game before he scored 35 in the loss to the Bulls on Wednesday.
He answered no. Not in youth leagues. Not in high school. Not in college.
"I wasn't good until about last year, anyway," Oladipo said, being completely serious.
On Thursday night, Oladipo had dinner with his former Indiana Hoosiers teammate, Cody Zeller, who is a Bobcats rookie.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun