Aaron Gordon Sits Out Game Against Blazers With Knee Tightness

by John Denton

ORLANDO – The best stretch of basketball in Aaron Gordon’s six-season NBA career apparently came at a price for the Orlando Magic as the power forward was forced to sit out of Monday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers because of inflammation in his right knee.

Gordon, who recorded the first triple-double of his career in a win over Minnesota on Friday and played nearly 36 minutes in San Antonio on Saturday, reported feeling swelling and tightness in his knee on Monday morning. He went through the Magic’s shoot-around session, but afterward he deemed the pain in his knee to be too limiting to play later Monday.

``This morning, I woke up and it was a little swollen,’’ Gordon said after signing autographs for Orlando County school children wearing ``Aaron’s Aces’’ T-shirts who were his guests at the game. ``We’ve got to get that swelling down before I keep playing. It’s definitely not comfortable out there on the court. But we’ve got a great training staff, so I think the swelling will be down in a day or so.’’

In Gordon’s place on Monday, the Magic started forward Gary Clark, who came into Monday having played 13 games while averaging 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in 12.8 minutes a game. James Ennis III, another player the Magic acquired midseason, was also expected to fill some of the void created by Gordon’s injury with his ability to play both forward slots.

In the 10 games prior to Monday, Gordon had averaged 18.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals while shooting 48.2 percent overall and 36.6 percent from 3-point range.

However, as Gordon has played better of late, his minutes have spiked significantly of late. In 12 games in February, Gordon played an average of 36.9 minutes a night – up dramatically from his playing time in October (29.3 minutes), November (31 minutes), December (31.8 minutes) and January (32.9 minutes).

``I mean it’s a long schedule, all of the traveling, late nights and lack of sleep takes a toll on your body,’’ said Gordon, who missed time earlier in the season with a sprained right ankle (six games from Nov. 23-27), sore left Achilles’ tendon (two games from Dec. 30-Jan. 1) and right calf tightness (one game on Jan. 10). ``Playing more minutes and playing harder (could be the reason for the knee swelling). I didn’t really get that break during the All-Star break (because of competing in the Slam Dunk Contest). It’s coming back to me and my body is just telling me to slow down.’’

Gordon, who has averaged 14.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.8 minutes a night over 54 games, is hoping that he will be ready to play by Wednesday when the Magic face the rival Heat in South Florida.
``Hopefully I can be back by Wednesday,’’ he said prior to tipoff on Monday. ``It will be a big game for us, so we’ll see if I can get right. I’m actually about to go to treatment right now.’’

FOURNIER FOULED, UPSET WITH HIMSELF: When the NBA released the Last Two-Minute Report on Sunday, saying that guard Evan Fournier was fouled on a layup attempt that almost certainly would have won Saturday’s game in San Antonio, it likely did little to soothe the Magic’s sting of losing a winnable game.

Similarly, the admission of the missed call did little to soothe the frustration of Fournier, who felt that he should have made the layup with 2.2 seconds that might have given the Magic a victory instead of the 114-113 loss they were forced to stomach.

``I haven’t watched (the replay of the layup attempt), to be honest, because I know the play like it was literally moments ago,’’ said Fournier, who was otherwise brilliant on Saturday night with 23 points and four 3-pointers. ``One of the assistants told me that the (Two-Minute report) said that it was a foul, but that doesn’t change anything to me. It’s an easy layup, a layup that I should have made, and I should have helped my team win. Nothing else to say outside of I’ve got to make the play.’’

In his six years with the Magic, Fournier has become the team’s top closer late in games. He twice hit game-winning shots last season and had two other plays where he was directly involved in getting Orlando a late lead. One of the true hallmarks of a good late-game closer, Fournier said, is being willing to live with the results – good or bad.

``You flush (the memory of the miss) down, but you know what happened,’’ Fournier said. ``Like, I’m not going to dwell on it. It’s part of this league, and with this team, I’ve made some plays and I’ve missed some. Unfortunately, both are going to happen, but what can I do tonight to help my team win? And, if we are in that situation again, I have to step up and make that play.’’

FIRST-QUARTER LEAGUE: Of the 16 teams currently in the top eight in their respective conferences – and theoretically headed to the playoffs – 12 of them outscore their opponents, on average, in the first quarter of games. That statistic alone, Magic coach Steve Clifford said, is further proof that the NBA is more of a first-quarter league instead of the commonly held thought that most all NBA games are decided in the fourth quarter.

Getting off to good, first-quarter starts has been something of a challenge this season for the Magic, who rank last in the NBA in first-quarter scoring at 25.5 points a night over the first 12 minutes of games. On average, the Magic trail by 1.8 points a night at the conclusion of the first quarter. Indiana (minus-0.7), Oklahoma City (minus-0.7) and Denver (minus-0.6) are the only top-eight teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences that having a negative scoring margin in first quarters this season.

Orlando’s first-quarter struggles are odd considering that it averaged 27.4 first-quarter points last season. Also, the Magic had a plus-1.8 scoring ratio following the first 12 minutes of games last season, meaning they were often playing from ahead instead of being under pressure while behind.

``I think that’s the focus the rest of the season,’’ Clifford said of his squad getting off to better starts. ``Last year, we were a very good first-quarter team. This year, right from the beginning of the season, it’s been an issue. So, it’s a big part of the game.’’

Clifford and Fournier believe that the Magic might have won on Saturday in San Antonio had they not fallen into a 16-point deficit in the first quarter. Ultimately, the Magic surrendered 38 points and seven 3-pointers and trailed 38-27 after one period.

``Even (Saturday) night, we played three really good quarters of basketball – balanced at both ends of the floor, but when you start from that far behind, it takes a lot of energy to get back into the game,’’ Clifford said. ``That’s kind of like the immeasurable parts of the that you just don’t know about.’’

Added Fournier, whose Magic also fell into a 15-point hole early in the third period before rallying late in the game: ``If I may, it’s the first quarter and the third quarter. In San Antonio, (neither) was good. We just need to have that sense of urgency that we need to start the game better. We need to have that aggressiveness, focus and the attention to detail from the get-go. I think we played good defense for three quarters in San Antonio, but it was just that first quarter with 38 points (allowed), that can’t happen. If you want to win and if you want to get into the playoffs with the right attitude and the right mindset, you’ve got to start games better, period.’’

UP NEXT: In the midst of easily one of their most hectic times of the season what with the rapid-fire succession that the games are coming in now, the Magic will hit the road again on Tuesday for a game in Miami on Wednesday night. It is the start of a four-game, eight-day road trip that will feature games in Miami (Wednesday), Minnesota (Friday), Houston (Sunday) and Memphis (March 10).

Orlando is 1-2 this season against the rival Heat, winning at the Amway Center on Jan. 3 (105-85), losing in South Florida on Jan. 27 (113-92) and losing back in Orlando on Feb. 1 (102-89).

The game could potentially feature the top two dunkers from the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in Chicago last month. Gordon earned perfect scores on his first five dunks and scaled 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall on his final dunk, but he lost out in controversial fashion to Miami forward Derrick Jones Jr. Dwyane Wade, who recently had his No. 3 jersey retired by the Heat, was one of the judges on the panel that placed Jones Jr. ahead of Gordon, who was saddled with a second runner-up finish in four years.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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