Aaron Gordon Withdraws From Dunk Contest

By John Denton
Feb. 5, 2018

MIAMI – High-flying Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon received a double-whammy of bad news on Monday when he learned that his hip injury would not only knock him out of the next two games, but also out of the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest later this month.

Gordon, Orlando’s leading scorer at 18.4 points per game, will miss his fourth and fifth straight games tonight (in Miami against the Heat) and Tuesday (at the Amway Center against the Cleveland Cavaliers) because of a strained left hip flexor muscle. Gordon, 22, suffered the injury on Jan. 27 late in the loss to the Indiana Pacers and he’s been bothered by lingering pain over the past nine days.

Gordon said that while he will likely soon return to game action, the smart decision is to remain patient with his recovery and pull himself out of the dunk contest now so that the NBA has time to name a replacement dunker for the event.

``It’s pretty disappointing, first, not being able to play with my team before going into the all-star break and then not being able to be in the dunk contest because of the injury,’’ Gordon said. ``I feel OK and fine, but not healthy enough to play. Maybe by the time the dunk contest comes around, I’d be healthy enough, but there’s really no reason to push it.

``I’m actually more focused on getting wins for Orlando,’’ Gordon added. ``We don’t have a lot of wins here and that’s my main concern – getting healthy, getting back and getting wins for this team. Obviously, I would have loved being in the dunk contest – especially in L.A. – but (his top goal) is getting wins for Orlando.’’

Orlando (15-36) will be without their top scorer tonight when it faces the Heat (29-24) in Miami. The Magic are just 2-10 this season when Gordon has been out with ankle, concussion, groin and hip injuries. They played well on Wednesday in beating the Los Angeles Lakers, but were especially flat in an ugly home loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.
Orlando figures to start either Marreese Speights or converted small forward Mario Hezonja tonight at power forward in place of Gordon.

``It changes a lot of things, and first of all it changes the rotation because we don’t really have a back-up (power forward) now,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, whose team is also missing power forward Jonathan Isaac (ankle rehabilitation), center Nikola Vucevic (fractured hand) and Terrence Ross (knee sprain). ``We have to find different solutions. I played at (power forward) a little bit, but I’m not a (power forward) at all. And we just miss Aaron, period, because he’s a very improved player and he can really shoot the ball now. He’s so athletic and you have to honor his ability to run in transition. It just changes a lot of things for us, man.’’

Gordon, a fourth-year pro, is enjoying a career year while averaging NBA bests in scoring (18.4 ppg.), rebounding (8.3 rpg.) and assists (2.2 apg.). He’s led the Magic in scoring 13 times and in rebounding 12 times. He’s had 11 20-points games, four 30-point games and two 40-point games, including a career-best 41-point night on Oct. 24 against Brooklyn. Additionally, he’s made two game-winning 3-point shots this season for the Magic.

``I’m not sure (about a return), but the best thing I can do for my team is get back healthy,’’ Gordon said. ``I want to come back and compete and get wins. That’s the biggest thing than any individual goal or any personal accolades or glamor shots. Getting wins for the team is the biggest part.’’

Gordon said he suffered the injury late in the Indiana game when he was shuffling defensively and went to plant his leg as he was bumped by a foe. That cause his hip to twist awkwardly. Tests revealed nothing more than a strain and he originally thought the injury would be minor.

He originally hoped to play in Saturday’s game against Washington, but he was forced to shut a workout down early on Friday. When the pain persisted, he and Magic staff had to make the decision to hold him out of the next two games and ultimately remove him from the dunk contest on Feb. 17.

``It’s definitely something where you feel like you can go and then when you go it locks up on you,’’ Gordon said of his hip injury. ``You have to make sure that I’m all the way back and my strength is back before I come back. Then, just have a good second half of the season.’’

Gordon put on one of the greatest aerial displays ever in the history of the dunk contest in 2016, but he finished second to eventual champion Zach LaVine in controversial fashion. Gordon went back to the dunk contest last season, hoping to win the championship that narrowly eluded him a year earlier, but he had trouble completing a difficult dunk involving a drone and failed to make it out of the first round.

Coincidentally, Gordon suffered an injury – a bone bruise to his right foot that knocked him out of two games on Feb. 9 and 11 – last season just before the NBA all-star game. He eventually got over that injury in time to compete in the dunk contest.

Gordon, a native of San Jose, Calif., wanted to compete in this year’s dunk contest because it was being held in his home state and he said last week that it would be his final time appearing in the event.

Gordon, who is set to be a restricted free agent on July 1, said on Monday that he must consider both the short and long-term effects that an injury could have on his career. While he is eager to get back on the floor for the Magic – and would have loved to appear in the dunk contest a third time – his health must rule his decisions now.

``You want to have a really long and lasting career, so I’m working on that patience,’’ Gordon said. ``I want to play this game for as long as I can.’’

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