HOUSTON — Don't be surprised if the Orlando Magic repeatedly send Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard to the free-throw line when the teams play Sunday night at Toyota Center.
Howard has made 55.3 percent of his free-throw attempts this season and is a 57.6 percent career free-throw shooter in the regular season.
"I think you always come into the game trying to diagnose situations that may present themselves," Jacque Vaughn said when asked if he might employ the Hack-a-Howard strategy Sunday.
"As a coach, that's part of preparation. So, will that be in our toolbox? Yes. Will it get used? It depends on the situation."
The Magic utilized the Hack-a-Howard tactic in both games they played against Howard last season when he was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the first game, an emotional 113-103 Magic victory, the strategy worked. Howard made just nine of his 21 free-throw attempts.
In the second game, a 106-97 Lakers win, the approach backfired. Howard shot 39 free throws — tying his own single-game NBA record — and he made 25 of his attempts.
Nik Vucevic's availability to play against the Rockets could be determined close to tipoff. Vucevic warmed up before the Magic's 121-83 loss to the New York Knicks on Friday night, but he didn't play because he felt pain in his sprained left ankle.
"There was some pain, and I just didn't feel comfortable with it," Vucevic said Saturday, before the Magic practiced at Texas Southern University.
"I'll just take it day-by-day."
Vucevic played well against Howard in the first game against the Lakers last season and not as well in the second game. Vucevic performed well versus Howard in a preseason exhibition two months ago.
"You've got to meet him early," Vucevic said. "You can't let him get deep in the paint. There's not a whole lot you're going to do [if that happens]. You've just got to meet him early and try to be physical with him and not let him catch the ball deep and try to limit his touches. So, you've just got to really be focused the whole time you're out there guarding him. You've got to do it all."
Jameer Nelson said he felt fine physically after he made his return to the court after a three-game absence because of a sprained left foot.
On Friday, in his first game back, he played 30 minutes and finished with 13 points, nine assists and no turnovers against the Knicks.
"I felt good," Nelson said. "If I'm out there, I feel like I'm 100 percent whether it's sore or whatever. I'm not saying it's sore, but I'm going to go out there and leave it on the court no matter what the situation is."
In three years at Indiana University, Victor Oladipo never played in more than 36 games in a single season.
But, 19 regular-season games into his pro career, he's already learned a key lesson: the importance of not letting defeats linger in his psyche.
"You've just got to continue to keep grinding," Oladipo said. "You've got to have a short-term memory. There are so many games in a season that if you let it dwell on you, it's going to be tough for you to play night-in and night-out."
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