Magic Continue to be Shorthanded Because of Injuries

By John Denton
Dec. 22, 2017

ORLANDO – An Orlando Magic team severely shorthanded because of injuries hoped for a bit of relief and reinforcements on Friday, but it instead got neither as Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac were missing once again.

Fournier missed his seventh straight games with a right ankle sprain, while Gordon was out a third consecutive game because of a calf strain. Isaac, who missed 17 straight games from Nov. 12 through Dec. 15 with a sprained right ankle, reinjured the joint on Wednesday in Chicago and was also unable to play Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Further complicating matters is that the Magic are already without Terrence Ross (knee sprain), meaning the team is missing three of its starting five from Opening Night back on Nov. 18. The Magic now have 68 games missed to injury this season – with 29 of them coming in December.

The injuries forced Magic coach Frank Vogel to insert Marreese Speights and D.J. Augustin into the starting lineup on Friday night to counter a New Orleans lineup with DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and three guards.

``We’re going to do something unconventional because who we’re playing is so unconventional,’’ Magic coach said Frank Vogel, pointing out that the Pelicans use three guards and two centers most of the time. ``We’ll have two big bodies to match up with them when they’re big and we’ll adjust with Mario (Hezonja) at the (power forward position) when they’re small.’’

Orlando’s injury issues have been particularly debilitating this season because they have often struck one position at once. Point guards Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin have missed 15 games – three of which came on the same night of games (all losses). Now, with Fournier, Gordon, Isaac and Ross hurt for long stretches, the Magic have been lacking for production on the wings, particularly in 3-point shooting.

Vogel has been forced to juggle the Magic’s lineups almost nightly. The latest iteration is the 13th different starting lineup of the season.

``It’s one of those things where you only worry about the things that you can control,’’ Vogel said. ``We don’t have our starting lineup available to us so we have to look at combinations and game-by-game at which matchups make the most sense for us. We have to figure out within ourselves to try and tweak it try and get better. We really struggled to shoot the ball from the perimeter last game, so we’re going to have Mo and D.J. in there with D.J. hopefully playing bigger minutes and we need someone to knock down some perimeter shots.’’

LOOKING AHEAD: Things don’t figure to get much better for the Magic on the injury front on Saturday when they play the Wizards in Washington, D.C.

Vogel said that Fournier, Gordon and Isaac will most likely be listed as ``doubtful’’ for Saturday night and are ``doubtful to play.’’

The most frustrating injury of the bunch is the one to Isaac, who was playing in just his second game after missing a month with the ankle injury. Isaac was on a minutes’ restriction in his two games back, playing 16 minutes on Sunday in Detroit and just shy of 14 minutes on Wednesday.

After running the court well and converting two nifty first-half baskets, Isaac said he ``tweaked’’ his ankle during an awkward landing in Wednesday’s third quarter. X-rays on the ankle were negative and he tried practicing some on Thursday, but lingering soreness knocked him out once again on Friday.

``He tried practicing (on Thursday) and was limping noticeably, so he’s not going to play,’’ Vogel said.

FULL NELSON: Now in his 14th NBA season, Jameer Nelson considers himself a survivor after carving out the kind of solid career that some gave him little chance of ever having.

Orlando believed in the, ahem, 6-foot point guard, trading up to get him on draft night back in 2004. Nelson eventually played 10 seasons with the Magic and is the franchise’s all-time leader in assists.

Since amicably splitting with the Magic in 2014, Nelson has played for the Mavericks, Celtics, Nuggets and Pelicans. Everywhere he’s been coaches have raved about his smarts and toughness and have thought of him as a future coach. New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry joined that chorus on Friday, saying the veteran point guard’s impact goes much deeper than his 5.8 points, 4.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds a night.

``I don’t think you can look at a stat sheet and understand the impact that he has on our team,’’ Gentry said. ``He is a calming influence when he’s in the game, a true professional and a very good decision maker. So I don’t think you can pick up a stat sheet and look at it and say, `Oh, he’s got four points and he didn’t play very good’ or anything like that. His impact is felt way beyond the stat sheet.’’

EVAN’S ANALYSIS: Fournier feels that being out of games is the most helpless of feelings because he sees so many ways he could help the Magic with his scoring and playmaking abilities, but he’s unable to contribute.

A native of suburban Paris, Fournier’s first language is French and his second is English, and he speaks the latter quite well. But only in recent years has he felt more comfortable speaking up as a vocal leader. Using the perspective provided by sitting out of games, Fournier has tried to help teammates with tips that he sees during games from the bench.

``I think we’ve got to have more enthusiasm, and trust me, that’s a challenge,’’ Fournier said. ``When you are in a tough position with guys out and a few losses in a row, you’ve got get your spirits up and keep fighting. It’s almost like you have to forget about everything else. Forget about the injuries, forget about the losing streak and just go out and play like it’s Game 1.’’

Long before the season ever began, Fournier promised that he would work to keep the focus on the task at hand that day. He knew that the margin for error would be a small one for the Magic this season, and he said the team has to keep the focus on daily improvement and in time the success will come.

``The most important thing with us right now is keeping our spirits up,’’ Fournier said. ``We have to keep practicing hard and playing hard believing in what we do. I said at the beginning of the season, wins or losses, we have to focus on each practice and each game. We have to focus on improving each day and trying to have better results in the future. We have to stay in the moment, basically.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic will be back on the road on Saturday when they face the rival Wizards in Washington, D.C. The Magic were slated to fly out right after Friday’s game and hoped to get to their hotel rooms by 1 a.m. to rest up for Saturday’s 7 p.m. tipoff.

Orlando came into Friday just 4-8 this season in back-to-back sets of games. The Magic are 2-4 both on the first and second nights of back-to-backs.

Washington and superstar point guard John Wall have long given Orlando fits, but the Magic seemed to figure some things out last season. Orlando split the four meetings, winning once at the Amway Center and another time in Washington, D.C.

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