PORTLAND – Whether it was from the enormous weight of having to defend a cavalcade of all-star players over the previous six games or simply a damaging tweak, the lower back injury bothering forward Aaron Gordon knocked him out of action on Wednesday when his Orlando Magic faced the Portland Trail Blazers.
Gordon, a fifth-year pro, had to exit Monday’s game in Golden State early in the third quarter because of stiffness in his lower back. He hoped the around-the-clock treatment that he had on Tuesday and Wednesday would allow him to play, but that plan was nixed when his pain lingered into Wednesday night.
``It’s gotten a little better since I went out (on Monday), but it’s definitely a little sore and tight,’’ Gordon said on Wednesday morning. ``It’s just hard to get any power or movement when your back locks up like that.’’
Gordon’s absence allowed forward Jonathan Isaac to move back into the starting lineup for first time since Nov. 2 – a game that he didn’t finish after spraining his ankle.
Gordon injured his back as he was defending Warriors’ superstar Kevin Durant. He did a stellar job of that for nearly 2 ½ quarters – just as he had done against Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar LeBron James (twice), Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Denver’s Paul Millsap in previous games.
Durant had 20 points by halftime and 26 by the time a hobbled Gordon mercifully asked out of the game because the pain in his back reduced his mobility. However, little came easy for Durant as he missed four of his first five shots and seven of 11 to begin the game. This stat was also quite telling: When Gordon hobbled off the floor with 6:35 left in the third quarter, Durant had made just 10 of 21 shots and two of five 3-pointers and Orlando led 70-58. With Gordon out, Durant hit six of 12 shots, two of five 3-pointers and nine of nine free throws for 23 points the rest of the way. He finished with 49 points and the Magic lost 116-110 – all while Gordon was laying on a locker room table because of the stiff back.
Gordon said after Monday’s game that he felt like his back had been tightening up on him for a matter of days. Maybe, just maybe, the pain in his back came from having to guard superstars the ilk of James, Durant and Leonard. Not that Gordon is backing down the from challenge of facing those level of players.
``It was a fun challenge,’’ Gordon said of his recent six-game stretch. ``I love playing defense and it’s a great part of the game. I love the challenge and I’m looking forward to seeing some of those guys again.’’
T-ROSS BACK HOME: Simply stepping onto the court at the Moda Center for Wednesday morning’s shootaround session caused loads of memories to come flooding back to Magic guard Terrence Ross, who lived in Portland during his formative years.
Ross said he and his family, which had moved to Portland from Los Angeles, lived about 15 minutes from the Moda Center. He actually got to play at the NBA facility and at the Blazers’ practice court several times because former Portland forward Ime Udoka was his AAU coach.
``I was telling one of the coaches, when I was in high school and I’d come here and shoot around on these courts, I’d imagine I’d be in the NBA and playing,’’ Ross said. ``Now, when I come back and shoot around here, I always imagine myself by in high school and before I got here.
``My AAU coach was Ime Udoka, so when he played here, we’d come to the (Blazers’) practice facility out in Tualatin a lot and we’d come here,’’ Ross added. ``We’d have little tournaments in high school when we’d come here and play and on Martin Luther King Day we’d come here and play. So, we’d come here and play a lot.’’
Ross’ first game back in Portland came in 2012 when he was a member of the Toronto Raptors. He played just 13 minutes that night, scoring two points while playing before friends and family. He enjoyed his second meeting against Portland much better as he torched the Blazers for 26 points and six threes in Toronto on Jan. 2, 2013.
``Just because I got to be home, my family was here and I got to play in front of them, that was a good moment,’’ Ross said of his first NBA game back at the Moda Center.
ISAAC’S OPPORTUNITY: Gordon being out allowed the Magic to get more minutes for Isaac, their prized second-year forward. He started the first eight games of the season before spraining his right ankle again.
That injury knocked Isaac out for six games and he spent the next seven games playing on a minutes’ restriction. After playing well in 30 minutes of action on Monday, Isaac has been given clearance to play extended time, head coach Steve Clifford said.
Clifford said the Magic are lucky in that they have two versatile forwards in Gordon and Isaac who are capable of guarding multiple positions and thrive on the defensive end of the floor.
``We’re lucky that we have (Isaac), who also is a good defender,’’ Clifford said. ``The luxury that we have that not many teams have is that when we have them both, we have 48 minutes of a really, really good individual and team defender.’’
Clifford said on Wednesday that he hopes that Gordon’s injury is ``a one-game thing.’’ If not, he has the utmost confidence in Isaac because of his strong defensive instincts and his blossoming offensive game.
``I thought he played great (on Monday) at both ends,’’ said Clifford of Isaac, who had 15 points and three 3-pointers versus the Warriors. ``He was really good offensively and he did a good job defensively. I’m really happy with him.’’
UP NEXT: The Magic’s nine-night, five-game road trip concludes on Friday in Phoenix when they face the rebuilding Suns.
Orlando swept the season series against the Suns last season. The Magic have won the last two games in Phoenix and three of four in recent years.
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