Magic Have Missed Augustin's Leadership and Range Shooting

by John Denton

CHARLOTTE – While the loss of rising star Jonathan Isaac to a knee injury was undeniably the biggest blow of the season for the Orlando Magic, head coach Steve Clifford feels that the absence of D.J. Augustin because of another injury runs a close second because of the veteran guard’s importance to the team.

Diagnosed with a bone irritation in his left knee nearly three weeks ago, Augustin came into Monday having missed the past nine games. The Magic were just 2-7 in the nine games that they have played consecutively without Augustin. Throw in another game that the 12-year NBA veteran sat out of on Jan. 10 with soreness in that same knee and the Magic have lost eight of 10 games they were forced to play without one of their steadiest players.

The loss of Augustin’s playmaking (4.7 assists per game), scoring pop off the bench (10.7 points per game) and perimeter shooting (34.6 percent 3-point shooting) has hampered the offense, Clifford said. In the last nine games without Augustin, Orlando’s scoring has plunged from 103.8 points per game to 100.6 points per game and the overall shooting is down from 43.2 percent to 42.1 percent.

``He has a trickle-down effect on the whole team,’’ Clifford said of Augustin, who has been out since Jan. 14 and was originally projected to miss three-to-four weeks. ``If you look at our injuries to date, our guys have done a good job of withstanding them. The (Al-) Farouq (Aminu) injury, we played without (Vucevic) for 11 games, we played without (Michael Carter-Williams) for a time and then (Jonathan Isaac), who was on his way to being first- or second-team All-Defense, and yet for the most part we’ve been able to withstand those (injuries), to a certain degree.

``The D.J. one is hard because every roster has strengths and weaknesses, and obviously the range-shooting and skill part is the part that we don’t have that much of,’’ Clifford added. ``And that’s the part that (Augustin) brings. Look at the numbers since he got hurt … it’s night and day.’’

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS: The Magic got good news on Monday when guard Evan Fournier was able to play despite having lingering issues with his back. However, converted power forward Khem Birch missed the game with tightness in his lower back.

Birch’s absence allowed Wes Iwundu to move into the starting lineup, and it opened up an avenue for 10-day signee Gary Clark to get some additional playing time.

Birch has started 23 games this season – some of it at center while Vucevic was out and some of it at power forward with Isaac and Aminu out injured. In those starts, the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Birch has averaged 4.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists.

Birch said he injured his back in practice on Thursday, but he played through the pain on Saturday against Miami. He said it is the same sort of injury that he suffered in the preseason when he was forced miss one game.

``I did it in practice two days before the Miami game. I jumped and felt a little tweak, but I just tried to play through it with my competitiveness,’’ Birch said. ``Tonight, was just not possible. I’ve been on my feet since I tweaked it. So, I hope I can rest it (on Monday and Tuesday) and be ready for the back-to-back (on Wednesday and Thursday). I think I’ll play in the back-to-back. It happened in the preseason when I missed the Detroit Pistons game and then I was good after that.’’

FRENCH CONNECTION: Orlando’s opponent on Monday, the Charlotte Hornets, played in the NBA’s first-ever regular-season game in France on Jan. 24. The Hornets, who were represented by France natives Nicolas Batum and retired guard Tony Parker, pushed the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks much of the night before falling in Paris before a sell-out crowd at AccorHotels Arena.

If Magic guard Evan Fournier gets his wish, the Magic will be one of the teams to play in France next season. Fournier, who is in his sixth season with the Magic, grew up on the outskirts of Paris, but just a short, two-mile ride from the arena that was recently retrofitted so that France could host an NBA regular-season game.

``I was excited for Nic (Batum) and Tony Parker and for our organization to experience that moment together,’’ said Hornets coach James Borrego, Orlando’s assistant coach from 2012-15 and its interim head coach for 30 games in 2015. ``It’s a valuable building block of our season because the guys rallied around it, enjoyed it and grew closer as a unit.

``I think it would be fantastic for Evan to represent his country and his organization out there (in France),’’ Borrego added. ``He’s a prime guy I would look at. So, Nic (Batum) had a blast and we all had a blast as a team.’’

UP NEXT: Orlando will be back on the practice floor on Tuesday – this time in Boston – to prepare for Wednesday night’s game against the Celtics.

The Magic won twice in Boston last season – 93-90 early in the season behind a big game from Isaac and 116-108 back in April to clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2012.

Despite being without Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics defeated the Magic 109-98 on Jan. 24 behind a big game from Kemba Walker (37 points). Walker missed his second straight game with a sore knee on Monday night, while Marcus Smart was also out on Monday with a thigh injury. Enes Kanter, who missed the game in Orlando with a hip contusion, was slated to return to action on Monday against the Atlanta Hawks.

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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