ORLANDO – More than being upset about suffering an injury that will likely keep him out the rest of the season, Orlando Magic guard Jonathon Simmons is upset that he can’t be there for his teammates in a time of need.
With the Magic already struggling to score after losing guards Evan Fournier (knee sprain) and Terrence Ross (knee sprain), Simmons went down on March 19 when he collided with teammate Aaron Gordon in practice and badly bruised his right wrist. The wrist injury, one that has bothered Simmons off and on the past two years, forced him to miss an eighth straight game on Wednesday night when Orlando hosted Dallas.
``It’s very disappointing to not be able to play because I love basketball and I want to be out there playing,’’ Simmons said. ``My disappointment is about my love for the game and not wanting to let these (Magic) guys down under the circumstances. I’d love to be out there fighting with these guys and the most disappointing part is not being able to be out there with my teammates.’’
Simmons, who left San Antonio to sign with the Magic last July, had a successful first season in Orlando, averaging career-bests in scoring (13.9), rebounds (3.5), assists (2.5) and minutes per game (29.4). He led the Magic in scoring 14 times and in assists six times and had a career-best 35 points against Milwaukee on March 14.
ISAAC’S AREAS OF GROWTH: Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, whose rookie season has been repeatedly interrupted by injuries, was out again on Wednesday night – his 51stgame missed on the season.
Isaac scored a career-best 15 points on Sunday in Atlanta, but he twisted his left ankle late in the game upon accidentally stepping on a foe’s foot. That knocked him out of action on Tuesday in New York, making it the sixth stretch this season that he’s been out because of injury or illness.
Of all the improvements that Isaac must make this summer, dramatically strengthening his body must be a top priority, head coach Frank Vogel said. By adding more muscle and more bulk, the hope is that the 6-foot-11, 222-pound Isaac will become much more durable going forward.
``There is a lot of strengthening he can do and part of his re-conditioning program was getting with the physical therapist every day and working to strengthen those lower-leg muscles, so he could minimize some of these injuries,’’ Vogel said a stretch in January and February when Isaac was out. ``That’s what his offseason work has to be about.’’
Despite the many stops and starts to Isaac’s season, Vogel is still incredibly bullish on Orlando’s No. 6 pick from last June’s NBA Draft.
``He’s a special talent, particularly on that (defensive) end,’’ Vogel raved. ``I really think he can become one of the better two-way players in the league when he comes into his own. But defensively, he’s already special with his feet, his length and his ability to get his hands on balls. He checks all of the boxes and we’ve got a heck of a future with him.’’
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said his franchise was intrigued with Isaac’s defensive length and high basketball IQ in the weeks leading up to last June’s NBA Draft. He said that Isaac reminded him of a certain player destined to soon be a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
``It was pretty clear to us that his shooting was going to continue to get better and that he was going to be a force in this league,’’ Carlisle said. ``I thought he had … there are similarities to him and Kevin Garnett just in body type, style of play, they both shot the ball in similar fashion in terms of technique. Those types of things.’’
STARS SITTING: The Magic held veteran center Nikola Vucevic out of Wednesday’s game with the official reason being rest. Orlando played in New York on Tuesday and didn’t arrive back into Central Florida until just after 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Also, it is the franchise’s fifth game in the past eight nights, so the decision was made to rest the center who is in his seventh NBA season.
Resting Vucevic allowed the Magic to play rookie Khem Birch more at center, a spot where he thrived on Tuesday in New York with 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in 22 minutes. Orlando has experimented more with Birch at power forward of late, but he’s more of a natural fit at center because of his long-armed defense and toughness in the paint.
Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, who is in his 20thNBA season, didn’t make the trip to Orlando because of a left ankle impingement. The veteran forward, who is one victory shy of becoming just the sixth player in NBA history to be a part of 900 wins, could be done for the season because of the nagging injury. Carlisle was vague about the subject prior to tipoff.
``Well, he’s obviously not on the trip and there will be more information (on Thursday),’’ Carlisle said. ``That’s really all that I’m authorized to say at this point.’’
ARTIS’ VISION: The first thing to catch Vogel’s eye regarding forward Jamel Artis was his imposing 6-foot-7, 215-pound frame. Upon further evaluation, Vogel soon realized that Artis possessed plenty of skill go along with his great size for a wing player.
Vogel considers Artis – a rookie who spent most of this season in the G League with the Lakeland Magic – to be a legitimate prospect for Orlando going forward because of his innate abilities as a playmaker for others. In addition to averaging 19.5 points per game at the G League level, Artis also contributed 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals a night.
Artis had the best game of his NBA career in Orlando’s win in New York on Tuesday, scoring 16 points, grabbing six rebounds, knocking down three 3-pointers and handing out two assists.
``He’s not even what I would consider a knock-down shooter yet; what’s intriguing about him is his playmaking abilities,’’ Vogel said. ``He handles it like a point guard, makes plays with the pass and really uses deception well. And then he can knock down the open shot, but it’s his floor game that is the most impressive.’’
Artis played some point guard during his collegiate career, and Vogel said he was shocked that the multi-talented wing player went undrafted in the NBA Draft last June. Vogel thinks that Artis could eventually morph into something of a point forward for the Magic because of his abilities to pass as a 6-foot-7 wing player. That’s just fine with Artis.
``If they close out hard, I’m going to play the game and if they collapse I’m going to kick it out,’’ he said. ``For me, it’s just about reading the defender and pass the ball the way I have been doing my whole life. I’ve always been a passer, I love passing and I want to set up my teammates, so they can hit a few shots.’’
UP NEXT: After playing two times in as many nights, the Magic will get a much-needed day off on Thursday. The Magic will be back on the practice floor Friday morning to prepare for that night’s showdown against the rival Charlotte Hornets.
Not only has Charlotte beaten Orlando in all three meetings this season, the Hornets have whipped the Magic 10 straight times since January of 2016.
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