Nikola Vucevic grew up in Belgium and Montenegro, but he still expected to enjoy the American holiday of Thanksgiving. He planned to go to a friend's home, eat turkey and even enjoy his favorite Thanksgiving dish: stuffing topped with cranberry sauce.
But there's another American tradition Vucevic insisted he would avoid: overeating on Thanksgiving. Vucevic pledged he would eat no more than two plates of food. His rationale: The Magic will have a shootaround Friday morning and a game Friday night.
Even professional athletes worry about the consequences of eating too much food over the holidays.
"You have to watch that," Vucevic said, a hint of disappointment in his voice. "If you overeat, you're gonna feel all slow tomorrow, especially with turkey and all that bad food that you can eat for Thanksgiving. Yeah, you've got to be careful. The last few years, we did have a game right after Thanksgiving. I wish we didn't. It's much more fun when you don't have a game the next day."
Like Vucevic, other Magic players insisted they would exercise some discipline on Thanksgiving so they could be ready to host the Washington Wizards on Friday. The last thing they want is to feel sluggish when they attempt to contain the Wizards' lightning-quick point guard, John Wall, and Wall's teammates.
Feeling lethargic can happen to players immediately following big holidays, according to Magic coach Frank Vogel.
"I've had teams come in that way," Vogel said. "Every year, I warn our team against overeating and overdrinking, because you still have to have the mindset [of], 'Yeah, it's the holidays, but we have a game tomorrow.' And what you put into your body matters."
The Magic cannot afford not to be at their best physically, not after a loss Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks and a loss Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns.
The two defeats left them with a 6-9 record and 11th in the Eastern Conference standings.
"There's a lot of teams that's playing well," forward Jeff Green said. "We've got to get it going now if we want to be there in the picture by February, by March, April. We've got to correct things now. I mean we can continue to say, 'It's still early. It's still early.' But it's got to come to a point where we've got to fix it now in order for us to be there at the end."
game and Sunday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks will take on added importance because the Magic will leave Monday for a difficult five-game road trip that includes matchups against the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons — teams that have tormented the Magic in recent years.
Not overeating on Thanksgiving can be just as difficult for athletes as it is for non-athletes. Many Magic players, including Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, have family in town for the holiday. And where there's family, there's food.
Point guard D.J. Augustin's favorite Thanksgiving dish — or at least the dish he planned to partake in this year — is smoked turkey. He said he wanted to avoid desserts and side items at all costs.
He and his wife grew up in New Orleans, and she even planned to make gumbo.
But Augustin politely told her that he'll wait till Christmas to eat that.
"I'm saving my calories," Augustin said.
"You don't want to overeat. I've done it before. It's happened to me and other guys. [You] just try to enjoy yourself [and] at the same time think about the game the next day."
Green said he planned to work out at the Magic's Amway Center practice facility on Thanksgiving. That way, he said, he also could enjoy a guilt-free meal. Green loves macaroni-and-cheese, candied yams and cornbread.
Vucevic would indulge more on Thanksgiving if the Magic only had a practice Friday instead of a game.
"If you have practice, you'll fight through it," Vucevic said. "But in a game, you can't do that."
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