By John Denton
April 4, 2017
CLEVELAND – Much the same way that NBA legends Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Karl Malone and Clyde Drexler were repeatedly denied NBA titles by Michael Jordan in the 1990s, Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel believes deep in his heart that if not for LeBron James he’d have a championship ring on his finger now.
Vogel, who is in his first season as the Magic’s head coach, guided the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and ‘14 where they lost both times to the James-led Miami Heat in closely contested series.
In the 2013 East Finals, top-seeded Miami was a heavy favorite over the fourth-seeded Pacers, but Vogel’s scrappy squad pushed James and the Heat to seven games. The series was so even that neither team won consecutively throughout the seven games.
James won Game 1 in overtime with a layup with 2.2 seconds to play and went on to average 29 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the series. Vogel’s Pacers won twice on in Miami, the final time to force a Game 7. Miami won that game and rallied in the NBA Finals to defeat San Antonio in seven games.
In 2014, Vogel’s Pacers won 56 games during the regular season, were the playoffs’ top seed and they took Game 1 against the Heat. It would be their only lead in a series that James (22.8 ppg., 6.3 rpg., 5.5 apg.) and the Heat won in six games.
“We had them in a seventh game where anything can happen that first time, but we just couldn’t ever get over the hump,’’ Vogel recalled recently. “We felt like we had the kind of team that could have won it all regardless who we would have faced (in the NBA Finals).’’
Vogel said that James is “one of the all-time greats, no doubt about it and if his career ended today that would still be the case.’’ Vogel also said that James’ greatness is in his ability to make others around him better, noting that “definitely he’ll go down as one of the best passers of all time.’’
And Vogel didn’t stop there while gushing about the player most responsible for keeping him from winning a NBA championship ring.
“He’s one of the toughest defensive assignments the game has ever seen,’’ Vogel added. “He’s the freight train on the break and no one one-on-one can guard it. You have to bring multiple guys at him and hope that he sees a wall.’’
`MORE THAN A GOD:’ The dream for Patricio Garino always was to reach the NBA as a guard/forward. What ultimately eclipsed the dream was what happened to Garino when he made it to the NBA this past October.
A training camp-invitee of the San Antonio Spurs, the Argentinian-born Garino got to play alongside of his home country’s most famous basketball player ever, Manu Ginobili. Ginobili, 39, is in the 15th season of what figures to be a Hall of Fame career what with his four NBA titles, two All-Star Game appearances and various other titles and awards in Europe.
What shocked Garino, 23, was how genuinely kind and helpful that Ginobili was toward him all throughout that training camp. Garino didn’t stick with the Spurs, but the kindness shown to him by his boyhood idol sticks with him still today.
“He’s more than a God (in Argentina),’’ said Garino, who spent much of the season in the NBA Development League before signing with the Magic on Monday. “With me, we became really close and, to be honest, (Ginobili) did way more than he should have. It showed how humble and how great he is.’’
PLAYOFF COMPETITION: Vogel is admittedly “old-school’’ in his thinking that healthy players should play rather than rest. Also, he intends to continue playing his regulars big minutes down the stretch to help to “keep the integrity of the playoff race.’’
Speaking of the playoff race, Vogel is happy that his Magic are seeing plenty of playoff teams late in the season. Facing those foes, he said, allows his franchise to better judge the strengths and weaknesses of his squad going forward.
Two weeks ago, the Magic whipped Detroit and pushed Charlotte and Toronto to the brink. Oklahoma City needed 57 points from Russell Westbrook and OT to beat the Magic, while Boston had to rally late to edge them.
“We’re taking our best shot (Tuesday against Cleveland) and we took our best shot in Boston and we almost beat them in Boston,’’ Vogel said. “That shows what we can be. If we can (beat Cleveland), that shows what we can be. If we fall short, it shows also our limitations. The intent is to play at the highest level possible.
“This is an important time for our franchise,’’ Vogel added. “There’s a lot of development that needs to take place and our young guys have to improve and develop habits that will lead to winning basketball and (becoming) a playoff caliber team. There’s an evaluation involved in both the style of play that we’re using, the schemes, the offensive system and the personnel that we’re using to try to get the job done. So the intent that we’re playing with in trying to win these game and play at the highest level possible means a lot when we come to the summer and evaluate everything.’’
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