Magic Will Need More Guys to Step Up With Evan Fournier Out

Fournier will miss tonight's game in Minnesota and possibly more upcoming games due to elbow injury
by John Denton

MINNEAPOLIS – The last time that the Orlando Magic were without shooting guard Evan Fournier and had to insert Wes Iwundu as the emergency starter, they pulled off one of their most signature victories of the season by beating the Lakers in Los Angeles.

While potentially winning tonight in Minnesota – with Fournier already ruled out of action – wouldn’t be nearly as improbable, it would register as important considering Orlando’s current state of affairs.

Orlando (27-35) will be without Fournier, its second-leading scorer at 18.8 points per game, tonight and likely for an extended period of time after he sprained the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in Wednesday’s 116-113 loss in Miami.

``All of it – his scoring, he guards primary scorers and, you know, his competitive spirit,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said of what his team losses without Fournier. ``We’re going to miss him in every aspect of the game.’’

Fournier badly hyperextended his elbow early in Wednesday’s first quarter when he dove for a loose ball as he was hit by Miami forward Derrick Jones Jr. Remarkably, Fournier stayed in the game and finished with 17 points and three 3-pointers, but the pain, swelling and soreness has him out of action now for an unknown period of time.

``That was painful, I’m not going to lie. That was really painful, and I thought that I completely messed up my elbow,’’ said Fournier, who played through the pain and logged 31 minutes on Wednesday. ``Fortunately, it’s not that bad (with a ligament tear), but it was painful for sure.’’

Fournier is one of just two players on the Magic – point guard Markelle Fultz is the other – to appear in 61 of the team’s 62 games this season. In addition to his 18.8 points per game, Fournier has averaged 3.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds a game and has shot 47 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from 3-point range. On the season, he has led the Magic in scoring a team-best 21 times and has registered 25 games with at least 20 points.

Riding high just a week ago after toppling the Timberwolves at the Amway Center, the Magic come into tonight’s game in Minnesota riding a three-game losing streak. That skid dropped Orlando back into the No. 8 slot in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets (27-34). The Magic are on the second game of a four-game road trip, and with showdowns ahead against Western Conference playoff teams Houston (Sunday) and Memphis (Tuesday), the Magic know they need to end their losing streak tonight against Minnesota (19-42).

While the Magic might be tempted to shift red-hot shooter Terrence Ross into the lineup, they will likely choose to keep their high-scoring guard in his usual role as a reserve. Still, Ross is expected to get big minutes in the wake of a performance on Wednesday where he scored 35 points and drilled eight 3-pointers – both season highs – to nearly propel Orlando past Miami.

That Wednesday performance in Miami capped a seven-game span following the break for the NBA All-Star Game where Ross has averaged 23.7 points while shooting a staggering 50.8 percent from 3-point range and a solid 47.8 percent overall. Since the all-star break, Ross ranks third in the NBA in 3-pointers made (33) and fourth in fourth-quarter scoring (9.4 points over the final period).

Also, there’s this as to how clutch Ross has been of late: Since the all-star break, his 66 fourth-quarter points (in seven games) are second in the NBA only to Bradley Beal’s 100 points (in eight games). Remarkably, Ross has made 24 of 38 shots (63.2 percent) and 15 of 19 3-pointers (78.9 percent) in seven fourth quarters since the break.

``It’s unbelievable, especially when you think about (the fact that) he doesn’t get a lot of spot-ups,’’ Clifford said. ``We’re going to him, they game-plan for him and just doesn’t need a lot of room. Right now, he’s in rhythm and he’s balanced. He’s playing, obviously, at a high level.’’

One big performance came last Friday when the Magic outlasted Minnesota 136-125 thanks, in large part, to Ross’ 33 points off the bench. He opened the fourth quarter with 12 straight points for the Magic and finished with 19 in the final period to break open a close game.

Iwundu has been out of the Magic’s regular rotation since newcomer James Ennis III was elevated into the starting lineup. He played just three minutes of garbage time on Monday over the past seven games. Iwundu’s season high of 19 points came on Jan. 15 in the win over the Lakers when he made five of nine shots with a 3-pointer and eight of 10 free throws.

Iwundu, one of Orlando’s best on-ball defenders, will likely get time guarding Minnesota point guard D’Angelo Russell, who has long been a Magic killer through the years. He had 28 points and seven assists against the Magic last week, giving the Timberwolves a brief six-point lead in the fourth quarter. However, Russell missed his final five shots of the game as the Magic rolled to the victory.

Russell had 26 points and 12 assists earlier this season while playing for the Golden State Warriors. In the two games he’s played against the Magic this season, he’s averaged 27 points and 9.5 assists on 39 percent shooting from 3-point range.

The challenge to beat Minnesota and get back to their winning ways will obviously be more difficult without Fournier. Orlando is already without power forwards Jonathan Isaac (left knee sprain) and Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee surgery) and have been hit hard by a rash of injuries all season.

``It’s obviously a big loss for us because he’s a very big part of what we do with his scoring and his (playmaking) ability on the ball,’’ Vucevic said of Fournier. ``It’ll be a big loss for us if he’s out for a while, but it’s kind of like all year long for us – one guy goes down and it’s on somebody else to step up, play meaningful minutes and try to play well. We’ll see how long it takes for (Fournier to return), but we’ll see. It’ll be next man up, and we’ll try to figure it out.’’

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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