Magic Hopeful Elfrid Payton Will Return on Sunday vs. Celtics

By John Denton
Nov. 3, 2017

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic opened this season as one of just five teams in the NBA to return the same starting five from the season prior, but that core group lasted just 5½ quarters when point guard Elfrid Payton went down with a hamstring injury on Oct. 20.

If all goes well in practice on Saturday and Payton can play pain-free once again, the Magic’s starting five could very well be back intact by Sunday night’s showdown against the Boston Celtics.

Payton missed his seventh straight game on Friday as a precautionary measure. That absence came as the Magic were also without D.J. Augustin, the starter in the previous six games who went down on Wednesday with a strained left hamstring.

Offseason addition Shelvin Mack started on Friday against the Chicago Bulls, but the Magic are hopeful that Payton – Orlando’s starter much of the past 3½ seasons – will be ready to regain his point guard spot by Sunday.

``I miss the young man out there,’’ Magic head coach Frank Vogel said, referring to Payton. ``I’m looking forward to seeing him (on Saturday). He did shootaround (Friday) morning, the no-contact stuff, and he looked good moving around. Again, (he’s) day to day.’’

Augustin strained his hamstring while landing after a layup in Memphis on Wednesday. Vogel said the point guard had a MRI on his hamstring on Thursday and it showed a ``mild-to-moderate strain.’’ Payton’s injury was diagnosed as the same severity and he has missed the past two weeks.

``We’ll see how he responds to treatment. No timeframe (for his return),’’ Vogel said of Augustin, who has averaged 8.3 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 46.5 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from the 3-point line in eight games.

RISING ROOKIES: Lost in the offensive exploits of Orlando’s 101-99 victory in Memphis was the dazzling defensive contributions of Jonathan Isaac.

The rookie forward finished with seven points, four rebounds and three blocked shots, but it was what he did late in the night – he banked in a straight-on 3-pointer, grabbed two rebounds, handed out an assist and took a charge in the fourth quarter alone – to secure Orlando’s sixth victory in eight games.

Orlando drafted Isaac with the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft because of his seemingly limitless potential as a defender and he showed off that promise once again on Wednesday. Unlike most rookies, it’s defense that has come the most natural to the raw, 20-year-old out of Florida State University.

``It feels great to have a coach to trust me and put me in at the end of a game to get a board or a stop, so it feels great to be able to help,’’ said Isaac, who came into Friday averaging 5.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 18.4 minutes a game. ``I just feel like I have a good understanding of NBA defense already and the offense will come. I feel like I understand (defense) a little bit and my effort just ties it all together.’’

Chicago’s top rookie, sweet-shooting forward Lauri Markkkanen, has been one of the team’s lone bright spots thus far. He came into Friday’s game averaging 17.2 points per game 39.5 percent of his 3-point shots. He made 10 threes in his first three NBA games – the most ever by a rookie in that amount of games to open a season, per Elias Sports Bureau.

Markkanen, a University of Arizona product, worked out in Orlando and met with Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, GM John Hammond and Vogel prior to the NBA Draft last June. Orlando ultimately opted for Isaac, but Markkanen – the No. 7 pick – made a big impression on the Magic.

Said Vogel: ``Super impressed and I really enjoyed talking to that young man when he came in for his workout. I feel like he just has a great confidence about him and I loved his skill set, obviously. … It just seemed like he had a good head on his shoulders and I thought he was going to be a success.’’

Said Markkanen, a native of Finland, referring to his pre-draft time in Orlando: ``It was a good workout, but I didn’t make shots that well. I feel like every place that you go, you want them to draft you and you’re working for that. I didn’t work out that well. It wasn’t a bad shooting day, but it was nothing spectacular.’’

FOUR-ON-FIVE: When Augustin went down with his hamstring injury late in the second quarter of Wednesday’s game in Memphis, Vogel made a strategic decision on the fly. While Augustin was back on the baseline and unable to get to his feet, Vogel let his Magic face the Grizzlies four-on-five rather than fouling immediately to get a substitute into the game.

As it turns out, Memphis got two offensive rebounds and hoisted three shot attempts before the Magic could gain possession and call a timeout. A whopping 38 seconds lapsed off the clock from the time Augustin went down to when the Magic called timeout.

In a game that was ultimately decided by two points, Vogel’s decision to not have his team foul proved very important.

``(The Grizzlies) were in the bonus and it was one of those things where we were rolling the dice a little bit, so to speak,’’ Vogel said. ``We play five-on-four contrived drills in practice all the time and it was just a scramble drill.

``At that moment I was not willing to just give the other team two free throws,’’ Vogel added. ``We were able to scramble at get a rebound and we didn’t have to give up two points.’’

Vogel said in the future he will have his team foul to stop play if the other team isn’t in the bonus.

UP NEXT: Orlando will practice on Saturday and then face Boston on Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Amway Center. It’s the second of a three-game home stand for the Magic.

Orlando and Boston went into Friday night’s games possessing the best records in the Eastern Conference at 6-2. Boston, which added superstar guard Kyrie Irving and standout rookie Jayson Tatum in the offseason, beat Orlando in all three meetings last season and holds a four-game winning streak in the series.

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