CHARLOTTE – Things can change rather quickly in the NBA, as coaches and players are fond of pointing out on nearly a daily basis. With that thought in mind, the Orlando Magic and point guard Jerian Grant are certainly perfect examples of the topsy-turvy nature of life in the NBA.
Three days ago, the Magic were in one of their worst stretches of the season after having lost four consecutive games to drop five games under .500. However, Orlando responded to that adversity by soundly thumping the Toronto Raptors and edging the Detroit Pistons on another game-winning, buzzer-beating shot by Evan Fournier.
Grant, whom the Magic acquired in a three-team trade with Charlotte and Chicago in the offseason, is another example of how quickly things can turn around in the NBA. Completely out of the Magic’s rotation after Orlando head coach Steve Clifford made changes on Friday, Grant incredibly could find himself starting on Monday when the Magic (16-19) face the rival Charlotte Hornets (17-18) in North Carolina at 6 p.m.
D.J. Augustin and Jonathon Simmons – the two players ahead of Grant in the last two games – suffered sprained ankles in Sunday’s victory and their playing statuses for Monday are uncertain. If one or both are out, Grant will likely start or play big minutes against Hornets’ star Kemba Walker. Also, the Magic might be pressed into activating two-way guard Troy Caupain from the G League. Caupain has never played a game in the NBA.
In 35 games with the Magic, Grant has averaged 4.1 points, 3.1 assists and 1.8 rebounds while shooting 39.1 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from 3-point range. Grant committed a nearly critical error on Sunday when he fouled Detroit’s Reggie Bullock with 2.5 seconds remaining and the guard drained three free throws to knot the score. However, Fournier was there to bail out Grant and the Magic by making a 12-foot floater as the final buzzer sounded inside the Amway Center.
Caupain, a rookie from the University of Cincinnati and a two-year G League veteran, has averaged 16.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 19 games (34.3 minutes) with Lakeland. He’s shooting 45 percent from the floor and 34.8 percent from 3-point range.
Augustin was in a great deal of pain following Sunday’s game after accidentally stepping on Blake Griffin’s foot and twisting his right ankle. The 11-year veteran briefly left the game, but he was able to return in the final minute. His play was otherwise masterful throughout – he contributed 26 points, eight assists, four 3-pointers and 10 free-throw makes – but the injury had him worried on Sunday night.
``Right now, it’s sore and it’s pretty painful,’’ said Augustin, who had his ankle submerged in a bucket of ice water several minutes after the game. ``I’m icing it now and I’m going to get treatment when I get to the hotel in Charlotte. I’ll see how it feels (on Monday) and try to go (on Monday).’’
Simmons, who had played well as the back-up point guard to Augustin, twisted his left ankle in the second quarter and was unable to return to the game. The guard had seven points in nine minutes early on, but his ankle buckled when he accidentally stepped on a foe’s foot while trying to avoid a screen. Simmons, who missed a game in Chicago last week because of a sprained right ankle, will now be trying to play through pain in both ankles whenever he returns.
The injuries hit just as the Magic are beginning one of their most grueling stretches of the season. Monday’s game in Charlotte will start a six-game, 11-night road trip where the Magic will play in all four U.S. time zones.
Not only will Monday’s game be Magic coach Steve Clifford’s first game back in Charlotte since he was fired by that franchise last April, but it will be Orlando’s second chance this season to break a long losing streak to the Hornets. Orlando has dropped 12 straight games to the Hornets, including a 120-88 rout in Orlando in the second game of the regular season. Orlando hasn’t beaten the Hornets since Dec. 16, 2015. Also, they have lost six in a row in Charlotte – a skid that dates back to Dec. 27, 2014.
``Every time we’ve played those guys, they’ve crushed us,’’ said Fournier, who won Sunday’s game with a 12-foot floater that swished through the net as the final horn sounded inside of the Amway Center. ``They’ve dominated us physically and mentally. So, it’s going to be hard (on Monday), especially on a back-to-back.
``But the main thing is keep playing the same way and be consistent,’’ added Fournier, who is desperate to end the futility against Charlotte. ``We’ve had really good stretches where we play with intensity and focused and stretches where we weren’t as much. This road trip is going to be hard, but we’ll be fine.’’
From Charlotte, the Magic will play in Chicago (Wednesday), Minnesota (Friday), Los Angeles (Clippers, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET), Sacramento (Jan. 7) and Utah (Jan. 9). The Magic won’t be back at the Amway Center until Jan. 12 when they host the Boston Celtics.
Clifford, who was the head coach in Charlotte for the previous five seasons and twice led the Hornets to the playoffs, said there’s no time for him to get all sentimental about being back in the city where he first became a head coach at the NBA level. Instead, his focus is on trying to figure out who the Magic will have ready to play at point guard and how Orlando can possibly slow down Walker, long a Magic-killer and an all-star candidate averaging 25.9 points a game this season. Walker, long a favorite of Clifford’s while they were together in Charlotte, scored 47 points on Saturday night, but his Hornets lost in Washington.
``Another game,’’ Clifford said. ``Listen, we’re back to three games under (.500). I loved my time there (in Charlotte) and it was great. I’ve been told to leave a city before (after being fired) and it’s like coming back here for the first time and it’s great. There’s a lot of great people there (in Charlotte) and I loved my time there, but I love it here (in Orlando) and I love our (Magic) team.
``Back-to-back, especially, you’ve got to be locked into the game,’’ Clifford added. ``It’s hard enough to have whatever we’ll have … about 24 hours to get ready, so we all have to be thinking about the right things.’’
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