Vucevic Will Be Gametime Decision in Cleveland

Nikola Vucevic

By John Denton
Jan. 2, 2014

CLEVELAND – This is all Orlando Magic fans need to know about the importance of having Nikola Vucevic healthy: With the standout center on the floor this season, Orlando is outrebounding foes by 2.1 boards a game. Without him for four games, they got hammered by 17.5 rebounds a night.

Vucevic’s health is of issue once again after he rolled his left ankle while trying to defend an Andrew Bogut hook shot in the first quarter of Orlando’s loss to Golden State on Tuesday. Unable to put much weight on the foot, Vucevic hobbled off the floor and straight to the Magic locker room where he stayed the rest of Orlando’s disappointing 94-81 defeat to the Warriors.

Just as when he missed four games in early December after spraining the same ankle, the Magic were once again whipped on the glass. Golden State outrebounded the Magic 56-37 on Tuesday, numbers that unfortunately compare to the 213-143 rebounding gulf when Orlando lost to Philadelphia, New York, Houston and Memphis in early December when Vucevic was out.

As for some encouraging news, Vucevic did make the flight to snowy Cleveland with the Magic (10-21) on Wednesday for Thursday’s game against the Cavaliers (10-21). Whether or not Vucevic is able to play likely won’t be known up until minutes before game time. He received treatment on the ankle Wednesday morning and will be evaluated again at Thursday’s morning shoot around. If he can push off the ankle, he’ll likely test it before the game before a decision is made about his playing status.

This much is for sure: The Magic know they desperately need Vucevic in the lineup to keep them competitive on the glass.

``Nik’s a big part of this team and we’re just going to have to make it work,’’ said Magic power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, who could shift over to center if Vucevic can’t play. ``It (stinks), but injuries happen. It’s tough, so we just have to make sure he gets his treatment. We’ve got to find ways to win.’’

With Vucevic on the floor this season, Orlando has been a competent rebounding team. The Magic entered Tuesday’s game ranked sixth in the NBA in defensive rebounds and 19th in total rebounds. Outside of Vucevic, they aren’t a team that gets a lot of offensive rebounds because of head coach Jacque Vaughn’s insistence that the team gets back on defense rather than crash the boards.

The Magic have stayed competitive on the glass by getting 11.1 rebounds a night from Vucevic – a number that plummeted when he played just eight minutes on Tuesday – and more than six rebounds a game from Tobias Harris and Davis. Four other players – Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson and Jameer Nelson – average close to four rebounds a game. Reserve power forward Jason Maxiell, a likely starter if Vucevic is out, is also a capable rebounder. Afflalo said the Magic will have to ``gang rebound’’ to make up for Vucevic’s loss.

``We’ve been without Nik once before and it didn’t go that well. He’s a huge contributor rebounding and he had been playing really well. Hopefully it’s something that he can fight through and get back on the court,’’ Vucevic said. ``We’ve got to have collective rebounding and working to get the ball inside. Defensively, we’ll be fine, but we still have to gang rebound.’’

The Magic could catch a break if Cleveland center Andrew Bynum does not play in the game. He was recently suspended for a game for conduct detrimental to the team and his availability for Thursday is unknown. Cleveland is also awaiting word on the health of superstar point guard Kyrie Irving, who had a MRI on his ailing knee on Wednesday.

Vucevic, who finished second in the NBA in rebounding last season, has been a model of consistency on the boards for the Magic again this season. He has had 16 double-doubles, including four in the five games before Tuesday night. He had a monster game with 30 points and 21 rebounds on Nov. 6 against the Los Angeles Clippers and he’s made great strides this season as a low-post threat offensively. That’s one aspect that the Magic can’t ignore, Afflalo said.

``Nik is a player who we can throw the ball to and he commands some attention. But we can’t just abandon the post if he’s not in the game,’’ Afflalo noted. ``Hopefully we find other ways – whether it’s with guards or the bigs that we have available – to get the ball down low.’’

Vaughn was asked about his recollections of how his team adapted in early December with Vucevic out, and it didn’t evoke pleasant memories. The 70-rebound gap during the time that Vucevic was out was the biggest four-game rebounding deficit in the 25-year history of the Magic, according to Stats, Inc. Vaughn is hopeful that Vucevic can play through this injury because of his obvious importance to the team.

``I just think that any time that he’s out, we miss his ability to be big for us at the rim and to rebound the basketball,’’ Vaughn said. ``He’s important to what we do.’’