Gordon Plays Through Sore Ankle Against Lakers

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford said recently that a couple of the things he likes most about Aaron Gordon is that he never has to worry about the forward’s preparation and he always knows the 23-year-old will give his all despite any pain he’s feeling.

Gordon, who came into Saturday riding one of the best streaks of basketball of his NBA career, proved that once again on Saturday night when he ignored the lingering pain in his left ankle and suited up for the Magic against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gordon initially injured his left ankle on Nov. 9 when he accidentally stepped on a foe’s foot – an injury he played through much of the second half. Since then, Gordon has alternately been in and out of the lineup because of lingering pain and swelling in the ankle. He missed last Sunday’s win in New York but returned to action on Monday in Washington and was one of the heroes in Wednesday’s defeat of Philadelphia. He was listed as questionable most of Saturday, but he ultimately made the decision to play after testing his ankle out in pregame warmups.

Not having Gordon – one of the Magic’s best on-ball defenders all season – would have been a big blow. Jonathan Isaac, Orlando’s other primary power forward, is still on a minutes’ restriction after recently missing six games because of a right ankle sprain.

Coming into Saturday, Gordon had averaged 19.8 points and 8.3 rebounds over the past six games that he’s played in – numbers that aren’t that surprising considering his usual production. What is surprising is the 3.7 assists with just 1.0 turnovers in those games. Also, Gordon has been just as efficient with his shot, hitting 53.3 percent of his tries overall and 41.3 percent from 3-point range. In Wednesday’s defeat of Philadelphia, Gordon had 17 points, six rebounds and six assists, while turning the ball over just once.

``Of all the things (from Wednesday’s win) – from the (Terrence Ross) shot-making, the Jonathan Isaac coming back (from an ankle injury) and (Nikola Vucevic) was terrific, but from watching the film it was Aaron Gordon, who was great,’’ Clifford said. ``Not good, great. Great with decision-making, great with taking advantages of switches and great getting (Vucevic) the ball and great when he got the ball and terrific defense. Those other guys were so, so good, but he had a terrific all-around game.’’

DIFFERENCES OF OPINION: There’s no debate between long-time teammates and close friends Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier about LeBron James’ standing as the NBA’s best player. What they do disagree about is Vucevic wearing James’ signature Nike shoe while facing the four-time MVP in games.

Vucevic, who is leading the Magic in scoring (18.8 points) and rebounding (10.7 boards), has worn a model of James’ shoes for years because he said he likes the design, comfort and performance of the shoe. Also, James has always been complimentary of Vucevic’s play and the two usually exchange pleasantries following games.

``I would expect, since I’ve been wearing his shoes now for seven years, for him to ask Nike to send me some nice colorways so I don’t always get the classic ones,’’ Vucevic said with a laugh. ``It hasn’t happened, so I’m still waiting.

``But, I mean, they’re good shoes and I don’t have an issue with wearing (James’) shoe, he added. ``Nowadays, most shoes that guys wear are from certain players. But I’ve been wearing his shoes for a long time, so hopefully he recognizes that and goes to Nike for me because I’m sure he has a strong relationship with them. I’m sure he can ask them to give me some nice colors.’’

Fournier, Vucevic’s best friend on the squad, likes to razz his buddy about wearing the shoes of an opponent. Fournier said fans will never see him fraternizing with opposing players on the floor because it goes against much of what he believes in as a competitor.

``I give Vooch a lot of (grief) about a lot of things and that’s one of them,’’ Fournier said. ``I’m going to let you guess (on what he says to Vucevic). It’s funny because we’re so close, but on certain things we’re so different. Like, he likes to hug guys (from opposing teams) after the game and I just go straight to the locker room every time.

``To be fair as a (7-footer), you don’t have that many options (for shoes to wear), so if he’s (playing well) in LeBrons, then so be it.’’

Vucevic had one more hilarious line as it relates to James and the Lakers, predicting that Saturday’s crowd at the Amway Center would be sprinkled with a new breed of fan that he doesn’t particularly care for.

``We’re expecting a lot of these new Lakers’ fans to come in, but that’s how it is nowadays,’’ Vucevic said, referring to those who tend to jump on and off a team’s bandwagon. ``Obviously, you have the real Lakers fans and the new ones that became Lakers fans when LeBron signed on July 6th.’’

MORE SHOE TALK: When Magic forward Wes Iwundu had two of his long-range shots from Wednesday’s win declared two-point baskets because the front of his shoe was deemed to have been touching the 3-point line, he wondered how wise it was to have worn bright, yellow shoes that night.

Iwundu, who has made tremendous strides this season and has started seven games, has taken advantage of the NBA’s new rule allowing players to wear whatever color shoes that they would like. He has worn yellow, red and neon green shoes at various times this season.

``If I’ve gotten something in the inventory and I haven’t worn yet, I’ll pull out a new color,’’ said Iwundu, who has averaged 5.8 points and 2.5 rebounds. ``It’s just all about having fun and doing what you’ve done to get you to this point.’’

As for referees noticing his shoes touching the 3-point line on Wednesday, Iwundu said: ``I guess (the yellow shoes) brought too much attention to my feet. I just try to switch it up every game with some type of color since they dropped that new rule. I’m just having fun with it.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic will be back in action again on Sunday when they play the second night of rare home/home back-to-back. Orlando hosts the New York Knicks on Sunday and the Knicks should have the rest advantage with them being off on Saturday as the Magic were facing the Lakers.

Tipoff on Sunday is just after 6 p.m.

Orlando whipped New York 115-89 last Sunday for the largest victory in franchise history at Madison Square Garden. That night, the Magic scored the game’s first 10 points, hit seven 3-pointers in the second quarter and buried 17 shots from beyond the arc in the game.

This will be Orlando’s fourth back-to-back of the season. They went 0-2 in the first one, 2-0 in the second one and 1-1 last week.

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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