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USC basketball in the NBA: Nikola Vucevic leads Magic to Game 1 upset

Aug 18, 2020, 2:00 PM EDT
USC basketball alum Nikola Vucevic. (Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
USC basketball alum Nikola Vucevic. (Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
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USC basketball alum Nikola Vucevic took off in the NBA Playoffs against Milwaukee.

It’s time for Nikola Vucevic to get the attention he deserves from USC basketball fans.

The former All-Pac-12 forward is starting to get just that from the NBA after his outstanding performance in Orlando’s Game 1 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.

With 35 points, 14 rebounds and a 12-point upset of the No. 1-seed in the East, Vucevic is thriving in the NBA Playoffs bubble.

USC basketball’s Nikola Vucevic put on a show in Game 1.

UCLA may have five alums in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, but Vucevic put himself ahead of them all as the lone Trojan on a playoff roster. (Pending Russell Westbrook’s return from injury.)

Vucevic didn’t wait to make his impact in Game 1. He had 16 points by the middle of the second quarter as the Magic built a strong early lead.

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In the third quarter, he kept the Bucks from mounting a serious comeback with 14 points.

Then he finished off his night with a three-pointer to push the advantage to 109-95 with under six minutes to play and a layup to secure the lead as the final minute approached.

The Magic stole Game 1 against the top-seeded Bucks, 122-110.

The praise for Vucevic was immediate.

Vucevic’s points and rebounds totals put him in elite company. He is one of just three players with the Magic to produce more than 33 points and 12 rebounds in a playoff game, joining Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal.

The outing proved Vucevic could come up big in the postseason after producing steadily in the regular season over the last eight years in Orlando.

His postseason chops were in doubt after five games in last year’s playoffs when he averaged a mere 11.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

At USC, Vucevic steadily built his game after arriving ahead of the 2008-09 season. While Taj Gibson and DeMar DeRozan were leading the Trojans to the NCAA Tournament, the 6-foot-10 forward freshman from Montenegro had a bit-part role.

Things changed in 2009-10 as Vucevic emerged to average 10.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He picked up the title of the Pac-10’s Most Improved Player.

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The best was yet to come. In 2010-11, Vucevic raised his game on both ends of the floor. He averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game while raising his three-point shooting percentage to .349.

That improvement continues to pay dividends for the ninth-year pro. He hit 5-of-8 three-point attempts on Tuesday night.

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