Jacque Vaughn acted a bit like a scientist over the last 19 days.
He tried one experiment after another.
Soon, however, Vaughn will shed his lab coat.
Friday night’s exhibition — a 112-96 Orlando win, its first victory under Vaughn — marked a turning point in the Magic’s preseason. Even as Vaughn tinkered with different groupings, he extended the minutes of several projected starters and tightened his playing rotation.
“This is a new team,” Glen Davis said. “You’ve got to find out who works together, who plays together well, who wants to play, who can get out there and do what we need them to do. And that’s everybody. So this little experiment period is just only going to help us.”
In one of his latest tests, Vaughn started Josh McRoberts at power forward.
And that was only the beginning. Vaughn eventually played big men Nik Vucevic and Gustavo Ayón simultaneously. He also played combo guard E’Twaun Moore alongside point guard Jameer Nelson for a brief time.
Vaughn’s decision to start McRoberts on Friday caught some by surprise, because it meant that neither Vucevic or Ayón started the game against 7-foot-2 Pacers center Roy Hibbert.
“I still wanted to get a feel of all of our bigs,” Vaughn said. “I had not used that combination as far as starting Glen at [center] also. So, it gave us a chance to see if that combination could be effective for us going forward.”
Davis and Hibbert guarded each other, just as they had in the teams’ playoff series this past spring. As well as Davis played on offense in that series, Hibbert was that series’ most valuable player. Hibbert bedeviled Orlando with his height, averaging 11.0 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game.
Little seemed to change in Friday’s first quarter, even after Vucevic stepped onto the court with 7:50 left in the period. Hibbert sank five of his first eight shots.
If there was any consolation for Orlando, it was that centers with quality offensive arsenals are difficult to find in the NBA these days — especially centers who excel with their backs to the basket.
Davis finished with 21 points in 28 minutes, and his play has one been of the bright spots for the Magic this month.
Orlando had lost its first four exhibitions.
“You don’t want to go 0-for-8 in the preseason,” Hedo Turkoglu said. “Winning’s always a good habit.”
Vaughn downplayed the importance of his first preseason win.
Instead, he said he was happier that his players totaled 30 assists.
He also said he was pleased rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson played aggressively, scoring 13 points and collecting five rebounds in the final 16 minutes of the game.
Vaughn wants Nicholson to play with a consistent intensity, and Vaughn saw that Friday.
“He picked up fouls, and I told him I love every one of them,” Vaughn said. “The fact that he was battling and trying to set a tone that he wanted to hit first — that’s where we want to get Andrew to.”
Meanwhile, rookie swingman DeQuan Jones might have helped his chances to make the team’s regular-season roster.
Jones scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting — including an electrifying alley-oop dunk off a long pass by Nelson in the third quarter. He also blocked four shots, even one against the Pacers’ 6-foot-8 swingman, Paul George.
On Sunday, when the Magic host the San Antonio Spurs, Vaughn might put his preferred starting five on the floor for the first time this preseason. Swingman Arron Afflalo could return from a hamstring strain and be paired with Nelson in the backcourt. Turkoglu likely will start at small forward, alongside Davis at power forward and Vucevic or Ayón at center.
Afflalo’s availability for Sunday could depend on how he feels after his next individual workout on the Magic practice court.
Afflalo would benefit from time on the court alongside Nelson, Turkoglu, Davis and Vucevic or Ayón.
And that’s another reason why Vaughn’s time for experimentation is nearing its end.