MCW Could Potentially Return Monday Against Kings

Magic also hopeful Gordon and Augustin will be back in action
by John Denton

SACRAMENTO – In a season that has tested the Orlando Magic’s depth, resolve and very fiber because of a relentless onslaught of injuries, reserve guard Michael Carter-Williams is a testament to the squad’s willingness to get back up each time it has been knocked down.

Carter-Williams, after all, could be the poster boy for the rash of injuries that has, at times, wrecked the integrity of the Magic’s roster and forced others to play out of position in an attempt to plug holes. The reserve guard, who is hopeful of returning on Monday (tip time: 10 p.m. ET) when the Magic (18-21) face the Kings (15-24) in Sacramento, has already endured injury issues to his left hip (twice), nose and his left shoulder – and the season has yet to even reach its official midpoint yet.

``I always mess with (Carter-Williams) and I always say, `If you didn’t bleed from your nose, you didn’t have a good game,’’’ Magic point guard D.J. Augustin said of his fellow guard’s willingness to play with an edge and deal with whatever injuries come because of it. ``That’s just what he brings to the game and he’s a big miss for us right now, but hopefully he gets back soon.’’

Still without the likes of Jonathan Isaac (left knee sprain and bone bruise) and Al-Farouq Aminu, Orlando is hopeful that starting forward Aaron Gordon (right calf tightness) and Augustin (left knee soreness) will be healed enough to play by Monday along with Carter-Williams (sprained AC joint in his left shoulder). Gordon and Augustin were held out of Friday’s game in Phoenix – a 98-94 loss that wasn’t decided until the final minute – with the hope that having that night and two more additional days would allow them to heal up by Monday. Coach Steve Clifford said following Sunday’s practice in Sacramento that the team won’t know which players are available until Monday.

``Those guys did a lot of the stuff and we’ll see how they feel (on Monday) when they get up, do shootaround and things like that,’’ said Clifford, whose team’s preparations have been filled with injury uncertainties most of the season. ``It makes it harder (with injuries), but I watched the film (from Friday’s loss in Phoenix) and our guys did a good job the other night. It’s hurting us more offensively (with players out). It’s not that guys aren’t playing well, but we’re just not as organized because guys are playing out of position. We did some of that (organizational work on Sunday), which I think will help us going forward.’’

Augustin, who had been in one of the best stretches of his career prior to Friday, played the previous three games with a sprained ankle and the result was a left knee that started to bother him. Gordon has missed time over the last six weeks with right ankle, left Achilles and right calf injuries. As for Carter-Williams, he has missed 19 games with the hip (twice), nose and shoulder injuries.

The irony, of course, is that Orlando remained mostly injury free last season last season while winning 42 games and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Last season, the Magic’s top six players in Clifford’s rotation all played at least 78 games. This season, Orlando has already lost 73 games to player injuries.

``We’ve had the injury bug now for a little while and hopefully over the second half of the season we’ll be able to get everybody back healthy,’’ said Carter-Williams, who has missed the past 10 games and has been out since Dec. 20 because of his left shoulder injury. ``It stinks that we’re not full strength, but the other guys have been doing great. One guy has been out and then another has come in and stepped up and played great. We’re confident that we’re still going to go out and win games no matter who’s on the floor.’’

In his 19 games this season, Carter-Williams has averaged 5.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.05 steals per game. His value, however, is much greater than that to the Magic because of the defensive grit and versatility that he brings to the Magic. A point guard in his first six NBA seasons, Carter-Williams was told to bulk up in the offseason so that he could be used defending shooting guards and small forwards, and he’s proven more than capable at doing that.

Clifford, who has spent more than two decades in the NBA, regularly claims that Carter-Williams is one of the best defenders that he’s ever coached.

``He just has an energy level and an edge – even with how he practices – that’s good for the group,’’ Clifford said. ``To me, defensively, I’ve just never seen many guys (like Carter-Williams), who can steal the ball and he doesn’t get beat.’’

This season, Carter-Williams injured his hip two different times while chasing shooters and either getting drilled by a screen or getting stuck between two screeners. Then, in his first game back from the second hip injury, Carter-Williams skillfully swiped a dribble away from Bradley Beal only to be clobbered in the nose by the back of the Washington all-star’s hand for a flagrant foul.

Back on Dec. 20, Carter-Williams was aggressively chasing Portland guard C.J. McCollum on the perimeter before his left shoulder collided with 6-foot-10, 235-pound Blazers’ center Skal Labissiere, who was setting a screen. The result was Carter-Williams spraining the AC joint in his left shoulder and several weeks of painful rehabilitation exercises.

``It’s hard to explain, but it feels swollen and certain movements cause pain,’’ Carter-Williams said in describing his sprained shoulder. ``Getting my range of motion back has caused my shoulder to lock up. It’s weird but each day it’s been a big stride from the beginning when I couldn’t lift my arm up, and the next day I could lift it 25 percent and the next day I could lift it 40 percent. Each day has been a big leap.’’

Carter-Williams is no stranger to his hard-nosed style of play leading to major injuries. In 2016 and ‘18, his seasons ended prematurely when he needed surgery on the labrums in his left hip and left shoulder, respectively.

Even though his fearlessness and his willingness to do the dirty work defensively often leads to him getting hurt, Carter-Williams said he wouldn’t still be in the NBA without playing with the reckless abandon that he does now. Now, poised to come back from yet another injury, he said the Magic can count him playing his same aggressive style.

``I couldn’t change if I wanted to,’’ he admitted. ``I can’t not go hard through screens and I can’t not play on defense hard. It’s just the way that I’m built and the way that I play. I’ve had injuries before and I’m not going to switch up the way that I play.’’

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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