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Former USC star Nikola Vucevic again proves a problem for Lakers

first_imgIn his eighth year in the NBA, Vucevic — who said he enjoyed practicing Saturday at USC, where he played three years and averaged 11.1 points and eight rebounds — is getting only scarier to defend.Credit that “a little bit,” he said, to the fact that, with his wife expecting a baby, he passed on playing with the Montenegrin national basketball team this offseason. Credit it more, he said, to the style of play that Coach Steve Clifford implemented in Orlando this season.Related Articles AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersThe sharp-shooting 7-footer’s stuffed stat sheet included a game-high 31 points on 10-of-20 shooting, including three out of eight tries from behind the 3-point arc. He added a game-high 15 rebounds, as well as seven assists, two steals and three blocks.In the Magic’s 130-117 victory over the Lakers on Nov. 17 in Orlando, Vucevic also was a problem, with 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting, and 13 rebounds.Beyond all the damage he personally causes, the 28-year-old Vucevic is especially a nightmarish matchup for teams because of his ability to draw would-be rim protectors away so guys like D.J. Augustin and Jonathon Simmons can attack with little interference.“He’s a very, very good player,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said before Sunday’s game. “When you watch tape on him, he can score all over the floor on you. He’s a nightmare to match up with as far as scheming against him, whether you’re switching or you’re in a drop, whatever it is, because of that ability.” “It’s just the way we play now, it helps me play an inside out, which makes me more comfortable,” said Vucevic, who really turned himself into a outside threat just last season, when he averaged 3.6 attempts from behind the arc per game, and shot 31.4 percent.“Last year, I felt like I was a little too much on the perimeter, trying to space the floor, which was fine, but at the same time, now when I mix it up and it makes it so much more difficult for the other teams. It works great for me because I get some easy ones in the paint and I’m able to step out.“The way Coach wants us to play and wants me to play, it fits my skill set.”He isn’t just a tough matchup for the Lakers, of course. Through 20 games, he’s averaging 20.4 points and shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. He’s also grabbing 11.3 rebounds per game to go with 3.6 assists.But Vucevic, who is in the final year of a four-year $12.75 million contract extension, said he isn’t thinking about what suitors might welcome that type of production.“What I’m focused on is us getting wins,” he said. “And the rest of it will take care of itself.”Unfortunately, perhaps, for Orlando, and fortunately for the Lakers, no more of those will come against the Purple and Gold. Trail Blazers, Grizzlies advance to NBA play-in game; Suns, Spurs see playoff dreams dashed How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers center_img LOS ANGELES — Nah, Nikola Vucevic said, USC shouldn’t fire Clay Helton.After leading the Orlando Magic to just its second season sweep of the Lakers on Sunday at Staples Center, the former Trojans basketball standout said he thought it appropriate to be patient with the embattled football coach despite USC suffering its first losing record since 2000.It appears Helton will stay put, so time will tell whether he figures it out. For the present, Vucevic and his team again had it all worked out against the Lakers (11-8) as the Magic (10-10) defeated them 108-104.The Lakers hurt themselves with 18 turnovers and 11 missed free throws; Orlando hurt them with Vucevic. Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions Lakers, Clippers schedules set for first round of NBA playoffs Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img read more