Aaron Gordon Will Return Tonight vs. Blazers

By John Denton
Dec. 15, 2017

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic found out for sure that they will have forward Aaron Gordon available to play tonight when they host the Portland Trail Blazers. This is something that they are also sure of: They need to play with more energy and passion than they did in a loss on Wednesday.

Gordon, who missed the past two games because of the lingering effects from a concussion suffered a week ago, could help bring a jolt of energy to a Magic team looking to escape a three-game losing streak. The Magic’s leading scorer at 18.5 points per game was cleared from the NBA’s concussion protocol on Friday morning, meaning he is ready to return to Orlando’s starting lineup.

``It feels good (to be back) and I’ve been saying it all year and all my life: I love this game so much and I love being out there with my teammates,’’ said Gordon, who will wear a mouth guard for the first time since his rookie season in the NBA. ``It’s going to be a challenge tonight, but it’s going to be fun. I just love having my feet out there on the court and being able to use my body and compete.’’

Considering recent patterns with the Magic (11-18) and Trail Blazers (14-13), Orlando will need to play hard for 48 minutes to emerge with a much-needed victory. Comebacks – holding them off and pulling them off – have been the trends of late for Orlando and Portland.

Orlando saw an early 12-point lead disappear on Wednesday in a 106-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Because a spate of injuries has robbed it of its depth, Orlando has had trouble holding onto leads of late when it goes to its second and third units. Most disappointing, however, was the lack of fight the Magic showed in the second half when it led for just 10 seconds of the final 24 minutes of the game.

Big men Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo were critical of the Magic’s effort after the game and head coach Frank Vogel backed that up. When the team is missing players, it needs to play with even more energy and vigor, Vogel stressed.

``(They were told that) in film and in practice,’’ Vogel said of the team’s need to play with more energy. ``The comments that Biz and Vooch said, that’s basically what I said in the timeouts and at halftime and after the game. They were echoing my message to the team.’’

Jonathan Isaac, Orlando’s first-round pick from last June’s NBA Draft, will miss his 17th straight game on tonight. He practiced fully on Thursday for the first time in a month and came through that session with no lingering soreness, but he is being held out once again as a precautionary measure.

Mario Hezonja will get his third straight start, but he will open the game at small forward instead of power forward with Gordon returning. Hezonja scored a season-best 17 points on Wednesday while also grabbing nine rebounds and blocking a career-high three shots.

Evan Fournier (sprained ankle), Terrence Ross (sprained knee) and Arron Afflalo (back spasms) will be out again tonight.

Portland has been nearly as inconsistent this season as the Magic, going just 4-6 in its last 10 games. The Blazers recently lost five games in a row – four of them coming at home – and they seemed well on their way to a sixth straight defeat before rallying on Wednesday in Miami. Portland came back from a 16-point deficit to beat the Heat.

Similarly, Portland wiped out an 11-point spread to win in Brooklyn and climbed out of a 17-point hole to win in Washington earlier in the season.

Back on Nov. 15, the Magic sprinted to a 14-point second-quarter lead on the Blazers, but they lost that lead before halftime and ultimately had to settle for a 99-94 defeat in Portland.

Vogel expects his Magic to respond with a much better performance than they had on Wednesday.

``We had a bad game and for whatever reason – whether it was guys feeling like they were undermanned – we just didn’t play hard enough the other night,’’ Vogel said. ``I expect that to change tonight.

``We’ve got to get a lead first (against Portland) and those (Blazers’ guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum) are electric and dynamic scorers, so it’s not always a good thing to have a double-digit lead early on them. They get going and get in attack mode and they are difficult to hold off. So hopefully we win the first half by 20 and the second half by 25.’’

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