Fultz on Support From LeBron: ‘He’s Like a Mentor For Me’

by John Denton

LOS ANGELES – All throughout the season, Orlando Magic point guard Markelle Fultz has had a steady stream of opposing players and coaches either come up to him before or after games or reach out to him via social media to congratulate him on his return from his two-year battle with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his right shoulder.

Now, add superstar forward and fellow past No. 1 pick LeBron James to that list of Fultz admirers. The four-time MVP and three-time champion recently offered up congratulations the Magic guard following his career-best, 25-point night against the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 6.

``He’s reached out to me multiple times, he’s been a mentor to me and he’s always told me that I could reach out to him for anything,’’ Fultz said on Wednesday prior to his Magic facing James’ Lakers at Staples Center. ``Recently, when I scored 25, he reached out to me and showed love. He’s like a mentor for me, and it’s so cool.’’

Fultz, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, saw much of his first two professional seasons wrecked by Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, an often difficult-to-detect condition where nerves and blood vessels between the collar bone and first rib are compressed and cause numbness, pain and limited motion in the shoulder and arm.

The Magic made the brazen move of trading for the injured point guard last February, and then the franchise patiently stood by him throughout last season and last summer as Fultz worked through the tedious rehab program put in place for him. The strength in his shoulder was so sapped that as of late July he was only allowed to shoot shots from as far away as the free throw line.

Clearly, all that patience and work were successes as the 6-foot-4, 209-pound Fultz came into Wednesday’s game averaging 11.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.28 steals in 38 games. (The one game he missed was the first meeting against James’ Lakers on Dec. 11 when he suffered from a stomach virus). Already this season, he’s had two 20-point efforts, 26 games scoring in double digits and 14 nights where he has led Orlando in assists.

Usually before or after games, players from other teams seek out Fultz so as to congratulate him on his perseverance and success.

``I think my story is a favorite (around the NBA) and there are a lot of people rooting for me – just to see me back on the court,’’ he said. ``And then you’ve got the other side of it, with other people doubting me and everything like that. But I definitely feel the love everywhere I go, from the different coaches and players, so that’s always a good thing for me.’’

FOURNIER OUT AS WELL: An Orlando team snake-bitten all season by injuries suffered a big blow on Wednesday when it learned that leading scorer Evan Fournier would miss the game because of bruising and swelling in his right quad.

Fournier, the only Magic player to appear in the first 40 games of the season, got kicked in the quad in Monday’s win in Sacramento. He played through that injury and scored 25 points and handed out six assists – the final one on the game-winning basket by teammate Aaron Gordon.

Fournier missed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday’s morning shoot-around session, but he did go through rehab and a pregame workout just before the game. Eventually, he was ruled out of the game against the Lakers and Wes Iwundu was inserted as the starting shooting guard.

This season, Fournier has averaged a team-best 19.2 points to go along with 3.3 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.08 steals per game. He has shot 47.1 percent from the floor and a team-best 40 percent from 3-point range.

DOWN TO ONE POINT GUARD: Because of more bad luck with injuries, the Magic found themselves in quite a dilemma on Wednesday – one that put Fultz in a tricky spot.

When veterans D.J. Augustin (sore left knee) and Michael Carter-Williams (left shoulder sprain) were ruled out of Wednesday’s game against the Lakers, it left Fultz as the only true point guard available.

Augustin missed Friday’s game in Phoenix because of soreness in his knee, but he returned on Monday in Sacramento before feeling more soreness. Also, Carter-Williams – out since Dec. 23 with a left shoulder sprain – said he was ``close’’ to returning earlier in the week, but he didn’t play Monday or Wednesday.

In hopes of fortifying a power position that was weakened by the losses of Jonathan Isaac (left knee sprain) and Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee surgery), the Magic signed forward Gary Clark to a 10-day contract on Tuesday. To make room for him, Orlando had to waive third-string point guard Josh Magette. That move came before the Magic were aware that Augustin would have a reoccurring pain in his left knee and before they knew Carter-Williams needed more time before returning.

``I mean, (the Augustin injury) caught us totally off guard. We thought he was fine, but that’s the way it happens in this league, unfortunately,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``(Carter-Williams) is just not ready yet. He’s closer but, he’s not ready yet. The one thing we don’t want to do is … when those guys get back, we need them to be healthy. We don’t want to do something where (Carter-Williams) plays before he’s ready, either.’’
Augustin is hopeful that his injury is minor, but he will get his ailing knee checked out today.

``I’m getting an MRI (on Wednesday), and this will be my second MRI in two weeks, but I don’t think it’s nothing (structurally wrong) with a ligament or anything,’’ Augustin said.

``I think it’s just a matter of tendinitis and needing it to calm down a little bit,’’ the veteran point guard added. ``I sat out the Phoenix game and then jumped right back into a game, which is totally different than a practice, and it was a little too much at the time. I’m going to try and do it different this time and make sure I’m 100 percent.’’

ROSS RETURNS HOME: Magic guard Terrence Ross’ ascent to becoming a high-level high school basketball player and recruit came during his teenaged years while living in Portland. But his true love for the game of basketball started in Los Angeles, where he was born and raised for roughly 12 years.

``Die-hard Lakers fan because I lived here until I was like 11 or 12,’’ said Ross, who grew up admiring Kobe Bryant. ``But then, I moved to Portland, but even in Portland I was a die-hard Lakers fan. I never attended any games, but the one time that I did it was a Clippers game.’’

Ross said returning home and playing at the Staples Center always gives him a bit of added excitement. Through the years while facing the Lakers, Ross said he has interacted with `Flea’ from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a few rap stars during time outs at the Staples Center. There’s also another reason he likes playing at Staples Center: The darkened background for shooters.

``Any time I’m back here playing, it’s always a good feeling for me,’’ Ross said. ``For sure, the rims always look a little shorter here and the background always gives you a good feeling.’’

UP NEXT: A night after facing the Lakers at Staples Center, the Magic will face off against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday in L.A.

Coming into Wednesday, five teams had played the Clippers and Lakers (or vice-versa) on a back-to-back in L.A. and they were 1-9 in those games. Not only that, but seven of those defeats have been by double digits and the losses have been by an average of 19.2 points per game.

The Clippers have given the Magic fits for years and will come into Thursday with an 11-game winning streak over Orlando. The Magic last beat the Clippers on Nov. 6 of 2013. They have lost six straight to the Lakers in Los Angeles – a skid that dates back to January of 2013.

All of that came, of course, before the Clippers went out this past summer and acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. That superstar duo has been in and out of the lineup this season because of various injuries. George has missed 15 games, but the Clippers are 9-6 without him. Leonard, who started his run to a NBA championship last spring against Orlando, was in the lineup for L.A.’s romp over Cleveland on Tuesday and he became the first player in franchise history to score more than 40 points (43) in less than 30 minutes (29).

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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