Kim Klement/USA TODAY
Nikola Vucevic was the talk of the NBA on Wednesday night after his 30-point, 21-rebound performance against. It was his fifth 20/20 performance since joining the Magic last year and it could not have come at a bigger moment. Vucevic scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds in the final 12 minutes, seemingly carrying the Magic to the finish line for the 98-90 win over the Clippers.
Outside the Magic locker room, there is a bit of disbelief that the Magic took it to the Clippers in the final minutes of that game and slowed down what was, to that point, the Clippers offensive juggernaut.
Inside the Magic locker room there remains a quiet confidence and focus on what is next — the less appetizing matchup with the one-win Boston Celtics.
Jacque Vaughn has long preached to his team that they cannot get too high or too low following wins or losses. That continues to be the approach following the win and stellar performance. This game will not get into anyone's head.
"The thing is, we have a very grounded group of young men in the locker room," Jacque Vaughn said. "I think what [Vucevic is] more concerned about is we won a basketball game and he was able to help his teammates. And that is what we'll be about today and going forward. Not individual goals but collectively as a team what we are accomplishing."
Vucevic is typically a quiet guy and seemed to remain on an even keel following his big game. The only question he sidestepped was about playing for his national team and some of the struggles he had in cracking that rotation.
However, Vucevic said the extra aggression and motivation came from trying to make up for his mistakes from the third quarter. It also came from the confidence that has been growing within Vucevic since last season.
The emotion came out as he finished the game for Orlando.
"I'm pretty confident," Vucevic said. "Just trying to carry it over from last year to where I had a pretty good season. I just want to carry it over. I know I worked on my game a lot. I know I've gotten better. I have to keep believing in myself."
Vucevic said at the beginning of the season that he would like to be an All Star this year. He said, of course it is a goal of his to be an All Star and considered one of the best centers in the league. With more performances like Wednesday's that could be a very real possibility. Vucevic is averaging 17.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per game. If he keeps those numbers up, an All-Star bid certainly could be warranted.
More impressively, Vucevic has improved his rebounding working well in space and being among the league leaders in grabbing contested rebounds, a contested rebound being a rebound grabbed when another player is within 3.5 feet.
Vucevic is one of 12 players in the league averaging more than 10 rebounds per game and 30 minutes per game. He is seventh among those players in contested rebound percentage, grabbing 38.5 percent of his rebound opportunities with an opposing player within 3.5 feet.
It is becoming clear that Vucevic is not just posting big numbers, but earning his work on the glass.
"It is a goal of mine to one day be an All Star, of course," Vucevic said. "I've still got a ways to go. The only thing I'm worried about right now is making this team better."
Vaughn said he does not think he will have to give a speech to Vucevic about getting a big head following the performance Wednesday. That quote sure seems to suggest Vucevic still has a very level head as the team turns the page toward Friday's game.
Thursday is another day to get to work. Vaughn expects his team to come in each day and complete the day's work.
He is still taking the long-term view to the season. This thing is still a marathon as the cliche goes.
There is no time to celebrate too long on any victory.