By John Denton Feb. 5, 2018
MIAMI – Bedeviled by injuries all season and forced to play shorthanded for many games, the Orlando Magic certainly could use the return of a couple of healthy bodies as soon as possible. But that doesn’t mean the franchise wants to rush players back before they are fully ready to return, head coach Frank Vogel stressed on Monday.
Nikola Vucevic (fractured hand) and Jonathan Isaac (ankle rehabilitation) returned to practice with the team last week, but their full returns to game action could still be a matter of weeks away. Vogel said that he will meet soon with members of the Magic’s front office and medical staff to determine the best course of action going forward for Vucevic and Isaac.
``They’re coming along, but I don’t know if we’ll see them before the All-Star break or not,’’ said Vogel, referring to the break for the NBA All-Star Game, which starts on Feb. 15 for the Magic. ``I’d say Vooch is probably closer than Jonathan, but we’re going to meet organizationally to figure out how to handle the last week of games before the All-Star break with those two guys.’’
In addition to being without Vucevic and Isaac, Orlando also didn’t have Aaron Gordon (strained left hip flexor) or Terrence Ross (knee sprain) on Monday in Miami. Gordon has already been ruled out of Tuesday’s game at the Amway Center against the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Ross likely won’t play again until March. Additionally, the Magic announced on Monday that Gordon will not compete in the NBA Dunk Contest over all-star weekend.
Vucevic, Orlando’s leading rebounder a sixth straight season, has been out since fracturing the second metacarpal near his index finger on Dec. 23. He had surgery three days later and he has been rehabilitating his body and hand more of late. Orlando came into Monday’s game at 4-13 without Vucevic on the floor.
Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, got off to a stellar start early in the season, but he severely sprained his right ankle on Nov. 11. After a couple of ill-fated comebacks, the Magic shut the promising rookie down on Dec. 30 so that he could focus on strengthening his ankle and bettering his conditioning.
Orlando was 8-4 and among the NBA’s best defensive teams early in the season with the 6-foot-11, long-armed Isaac protecting the rim. After weeks of carefully guarding against re-injuring his ankle, Isaac has recently resumed cutting, jumping and shooting in basketball-related drills.
FLY EAGLES FLY: One of Vogel’s favorite childhood memories was occasionally making the 75-minute ride from his home in Wildwood Crest, N.J. to Philadelphia with his father, Frank Sr., to watch the Eagles play.
On Sunday night, with his father by his side in Miami, Vogel anxiously looked on as the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 for the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory.
With the Magic in Miami to face the Heat on Monday night, the Vogels watched the game in a hotel conference room along with a couple of dozen Magic staffers. Vogel also was able to use the FaceTime feature on his phone to celebrate with his wife, Jenifer, and daughters Alexa and Arianna. It is a night that Vogel said he will never forget because of life-long fandom of following the Eagles.
``It’s a heck of a good feeling, it really is,’’ a downright giddy Vogel said on Monday. ``You root for a team your whole life, and you live and die by the wins and losses, and you want them to be the team that wins the Super Bowl. To be 44 years old and experience it after having never experienced it – especially the way it happened being a great game – it was a lot of fun.’’
Vogel joked that might have to pull out a few trick plays on Monday in honor of the call that Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson made in dialing up a fourth-and-goal, double-reverse pass play that resulted in quarterback Nick Foles scoring a touchdown. Vogel said one of the things that he admired about the Eagles all season – and again on Sunday – was the squad’s discipline and attention to detail.
``Just the execution is what impressed me,’’ Vogel said. ``You can have all of the ideas and the greatest plan, but for it all to click in one game the way it did for them last night, that was awesome.’’
TRADE TALK: With the NBA’s trade deadline hitting on Thursday – approximately two weeks earlier than normal – players can sometimes be distracted by the rampant rumors spread all across the internet.
With the Magic struggling much of the season and out of the playoff chase once again, new President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond could be looking to shake up the roster and attain players or picks who could help the franchise going forward.
Point guard Elfrid Payton, who is in his fourth season with the Magic, said he hopes to remain in Orlando, but didn’t plan on investing much time at all in keeping track of rumors that could involve his future. Payton, who will be a restricted free agent on July 1, said he’ll keep his focus on the court and he’ll respond accordingly if there’s a transaction involving him.
``I always say that God’s got me, so whatever happens, it’s meant to happen,’’ said Payton, who went into Monday’s game averaging 13.2 points, 6.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds a game while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 37.9 percent from 3-point range. ``Whatever is for me is for me and it doesn’t concern me at all. As long as I’m here (in Orlando), I’m going to give 100 percent here until they say, `It’s time to go,’ or whatever.’’
UP NEXT: The Magic will face their second back-to-back set of games in as many weeks when the return to action on Tuesday to host the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers.
Orlando had a very difficult back-to-back last week when it had to play in Houston on Tuesday and then return home to face the Los Angeles Lakers a night later – an especially daunting scenario considering the travel time and the time change. The Magic responded quite well, tying a season high with 18 3-pointers in an impressive whipping of the Lakers.
Orlando made 18 3-pointers in a game one other time this season and it came against Cleveland on Oct. 21 on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Cavaliers captured the two meetings since then, winning 131-127 in Orlando on Jan. 6 and 104-103 in Cleveland on Jan. 18.
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