Serge Ibaka Misses Wednesday's Game With Sore Shoulder

By John Denton
Jan. 11, 2017

LOS ANGELES – Serge Ibaka came into Wednesday having played in all 39 of the Orlando Magic’s games this season – something he has always prided himself on doing throughout his eight-year NBA career.

However, Ibaka’s run of consecutive games played came to an end on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers when the multi-talented power forward was unable to play because of a sprained right shoulder.

Ibaka, who ranks first on the team in blocked shots (1.7), second in scoring (15.6) and third in rebounding (7.1), injured himself on Sunday while swatting a shot off the backboard. He said a MRI showed no damage in the shoulder and he hoped the two days off between games would allow him to return on Wednesday, but the lingering pain kept him out of action for the first time this season.

``Some stuff like this you can’t control,’’ Ibaka said of sitting out his first game of the season. ``Even though I hate missing games, this thing happened. Hopefully, it’s only going to be just one game. Hopefully, I sit out tonight and play the next game.’’

The Magic play next on Friday night in Portland against the Trail Blazers. Ibaka will likely test the shoulder again in practice on Thursday.

Ibaka has been something of an ironman throughout his NBA career, missing just 32 of a possible 563 games over his career with Oklahoma City and Orlando. Twice, he’s played in every game and three other times he missed four or fewer games in a season. He is highly dedicated to his fitness, eating habits and postgame recovery – things he feels have helped him stay healthy throughout his career.

``First, and with everything, I always thank God,’’ Ibaka said. ``I thank God that I played all the games every season. Also, I’m proud of myself for the way that I take care of my body. I’ve been taking care of myself since Day 1, making sure that I eat good, sleep good, stretching and lifting. All those little things help, so I’m proud of myself.’’

VOOCH BACK AMONG STARTERS: The Ibaka injury forced the Magic into making a lineup change on Wednesday, and head coach Frank Vogel responded by making a couple of switches to try and wake the team from its recent three-game losing streak.

Long-time fixture Nikola Vucevic returned to the starting lineup at center, replacing the struggling Bismack Biyombo. Jeff Green started the game at forward – a move made to combat the Los Angeles Clippers’ smallish lineup without injured forward Blake Griffin (knee surgery). Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon remained in the starting lineup.

Vucevic started the first 16 games of the season before being moved into a reserve role in an attempt to strengthen the defense with Biyombo. Vucevic’s 20 games as a reserve (14.3 ppg., 9.3 rpg., 46.5 percent shooting) were more productive than his 16 games as a starter (11.8 ppg., 11.4 rpg., 43.7 percent shooting), but the move was made to try and add more scoring punch to Orlando’s sluggish offense.

Like Vucevic, Green has been more productive off the bench (10 ppg., 2.9 rpg., 41.5 percent shooting) than while starting (5.9 ppg., 2.5 rpg., 28.8 percent shooting). He was put back into the starting lineup on Wednesday so that he could use his quickness on the perimeter against Clippers’ forward Luc Mbah a Moute.

Biyombo came off the bench for his first 15 games – he was suspended for the season-opener – and started the past 23 games. His effectiveness has been limited of late as the Magic have faced several smallish teams loaded with 3-point shooters. Over his previous 10 games, Biyombo has averaged 6.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game.

LOVE L.A.: Wednesday night’s game wrapped up a five-day stay in Los Angeles for the Magic, a rarity with the usual NBA schedule that often has teams in and out of cities within 48 hours.

NBA schedule-makers are trying to ease some of the wear and tear of travelling on NBA teams this season, having them play twice in cities where there are two teams rather than make two trips there. Orlando flew to Los Angeles on Saturday night, played the Lakers on Sunday, had two nights off, faced the Clippers on Wednesday and was scheduled to depart after the game for Portland.

The Miami Heat recently had a similar schedule, facing the Lakers on Friday night and then playing the Clippers on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center before the Magic took the floor a couple of hours later.

Vogel was hopeful that having the chance to stay in one city for an extended time and enjoying two nights off will help to re-charge his team’s energy. Time will tell, Vogel said, if the extended stay in Los Angeles was beneficial to his squad. Starting on Friday in Portland, the Magic play three games in four nights and five games in an eight-night stretch, and the rest the team got in L.A. could prove beneficial.

``I think two days in between games is always good,’’ Vogel said. ``I’m hoping that our guys are fresher. We did have a good, thorough practice (on Tuesday), so hopefully we’re sharper. … (Having time off in L.A.) is certainly better than going into three (games)-in-four (nights) off a three-in-four. So hopefully that’s the case (with the team being better rested).’’

GORDON’S GROWTH: Magic forward Aaron Gordon has shown off his tremendous potential as a defender of late, delivering solid performances against elite scorers such as James Harden and Carmelo Anthony.

Because Gordon has a rare combination of size, quickness and athleticism, Vogel has started to branch out in how he uses Gordon on the defensive end of the floor. Vogel used Gordon in short spurts against Clippers’ superstar point guard Chris Paul in December, and he went into Wednesday’s game planning to rotate Gordon around wherever needed because of his defensive versatility.

``There’s a couple of benefits to (using Gordon to guard point guards) – it gives us more length on Paul and it gives us better switching versatility,’’ Vogel said. ``There are benefits to being able to use (Gordon) to mix up coverages and mixing matchups.’’

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