Gordon Hopes to Return Wednesday vs. Bucks

by John Denton

SAN ANTONIO – Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon remained in the NBA’s concussion protocol and missed his third straight game on Tuesday, but his hope is that he will be cleared to play by Wednesday.

Gordon, Orlando’s leading scorer on the season at 18.3 points per game, returned to practice on Monday and had hoped to play Tuesday in San Antonio, but he did not clear the final hurdle of the NBA’s concussion protocol. Gordon, 22, said he will re-take the recognition and memorization test again on Wednesday morning in hopes of being able to play later that night when the Magic face the Bucks at the Amway Center.

``I always want to play. Always, always, always want to play and too bad I can’t play (Tuesday in San Antonio),’’ Gordon said. ``Let’s see if I can play against Milwaukee tomorrow (on Wednesday).’’

Magic officials believe that Gordon suffered a concussion in the third quarter of last Wednesday’s 108-107 to the Los Angeles Lakers when he collided face-first with the shoulder of power forward Julius Randle. Gordon didn’t show any signs of a concussion at the time and finished that game strong, scoring a go-ahead layup with five seconds remaining to cap a 28-point, 14 rebound night. However, he began experiencing concussion-related symptoms later in the night and was placed into the league’s protocol for head injuries. That knocked him out weekend games against the Kings and Clippers.

The NBA’s concussion protocol dictates that players must pass increasingly difficult tests without experiencing symptoms before receiving full clearance to return to game action. Gordon was first placed in the concussion protocol on Thursday and went through conditioning drills without incident on Friday in Sacramento. He was back on the practice floor on Monday in San Antonio and held out hope that he would be able to play.

However, when he did not receive final clearance from the league-appointed physician, he was once again held out of action. It’s the 21st game that he has missed this season because of ankle, calf, hip and concussion problems this season. His other concussion this season came on Dec. 8 when he ran face-first into Denver guard Gary Harris – an injury that knocked him out of two games.

Gordon knows that the NBA’s concussion protocol is set up to protect him and that the Magic have his best interests at heart. Though he is eager to return as soon as possible, safety must be at the forefront, he said.

``Of course, you want to be safe. Better safe than sorry,’’ he said. ``I feel OK, but protocol is protocol for a reason.’’

DIFFICULT BACK-TO-BACK: Playing two games in as many nights is never easy in the NBA. But there are factors that go into those back-to-backs that can sometimes make them even more taxing on the players.

Travel time between games is one issue and it’s made even worse when teams are travelling from West to East because of the differences between time zones.

Such will be the case on Wednesday when the Magic – who have spent the past 10 nights on the road while playing in five cities – will be back in Orlando to face the Bucks. After tipping off at the equivalent of 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday night in San Antonio, the Magic aren’t slated to arrive back in Orlando until 2:30 a.m. Milwaukee, meanwhile, last played on Monday and should be well-rested for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game.

The last time the Magic faced a similar situation they lost 114-107 in Houston on Jan. 30 and returned to the Amway Center a night later and beat the Los Angeles Lakers 127-105.

``The last time we did it we won by (22 points),’’ Vogel said, shooting down any potential excuses his squad might have with fatigue going into the Milwaukee game on Wednesday. ``On paper, this is daunting. But we’ve done it before this year and won big. That wasn’t coming back from a West Coast trip, so it’s definitely different. But we’ve have had some success in this situation to draw from.’’

POP ON LEONARD’S INJURY: San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is usually tight-lipped about the health of injured players, but he had plenty to say on Tuesday about forward Kawhi Leonard, who has played just nine games this season because of a quadriceps tendon injury. Various reports had Leonard coming back as soon as Thursday, but Popovich shot those report down, saying that the superstar forward has yet to even receive medical clearance to return. Until then, a return date can’t be determined, Popovich stressed.

``Like anybody else, he’s frustrated, he wants to be playing, he’s competitive and it’s been a tough year in that regard for him,’’ Popovich said. ``The first step is he’s got to be cleared by his medical staff that he’s seeing, and until he gets cleared, we can’t make a decision on when he’s coming back. Once he gets cleared, he and I can sit down and talk and see what we think about an appropriate time for him to come back.

``Nothing overrides the medical staff,’’ Popovich continued. ``Our history is pretty documented that if we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the conservative side. His career is going to be of paramount importance to us and it’s not the game or the playoffs (that rules the decision-making). It was the same thing with Tim (Duncan) when, early on, he hurt a knee one year and we didn’t let him go in the playoffs. I don’t know that it will be that way in this situation, but his career will be paramount in making this decision.’’

INTERCHANGABLE FORWARDS: One of the many reasons that the Magic are eager to get Gordon back on the floor is because they want to experiment playing him alongside of rookie forward Jonathan Isaac.

Vogel said Orlando’s hope is that eventually the 6-foot-11 Isaac and the 6-foot-9 Gordon will be able to play together because their versatility gives the Magic so many options on both ends of the floor. Ultimately, Vogel sees a scenario where Gordon and Isaac can switch any assignment defensively and guard either power forwards or small forwards.

``I think that’s an important part of (the 14) games we have left – to explore that (Isaac-Gordon pairing) and see what it looks like,’’ Vogel said. ``We need to get a little bit of a baseline for what that looks like going into next year.’’

Another thing that the Magic want to tinker with regarding Isaac, who has already grown an inch and has added 12 pounds of muscle through his weight-room work: Playing him at center in some small-ball lineups. That won’t come this season as the Magic don’t want to overload the rookie just yet, but it could be a weapon for the team going forward in the increasingly position-less NBA.

``You could definitely do that, but I don’t think we’re going to do that now at this young age,’’ Vogel said of playing Isaac at center for now. ``For him, we’re trying to keep things as simple as possible for him. But, definitely, that role is in the future for him.’’

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.