Magic Making Most Out of Being on Road for Thanksgiving

By John Denton
Nov. 22, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS – The Orlando Magic will wake up Thanksgiving morning in frigid Minneapolis and then board a mid-morning flight to Boston where they will celebrate the holiday together as a team.

While they won’t necessarily be home for the holiday, players and coaches will be around one another, and most agree that’s very much akin to being with family.

In Boston, the Magic will hold a team luncheon complete with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and various desserts. Also, there will be TVs playing various football games so that players and coaches can spend time around one another celebrating the holiday.

``As much time as we spend with the guys around here, it’s like family and it will be cool,’’ Magic point guard Elfrid Payton said. ``I’ll hang with teammates, get a good meal and try to get a `W’ the next day.’’

The Magic play the Celtics in Boston on Friday. In the franchise’s history, the Magic have played on Thanksgiving Day just twice (2008 and ‘09) and the team has been on the road for the holiday just four other times (1989, ’90, ’91 and ‘17).

Magic coach Frank Vogel said traveling on holidays is the one aspect of the NBA lifestyle that is difficult. This season, the Magic were on the road for Halloween, they will be away from home for Thanksgiving and they must fly to Miami the night of Christmas. While he certainly isn’t complaining, Vogel admitted it’s difficult to be away from his wife and two children during the holidays.

``It’s not fun and it’s not something I’m excited about,’’ Vogel said. ``We’ve just got to make the best of it. With this job, there are going to be things like that. I haven’t played on Christmas Day once in my 20-year career, so I’m home for Christmas and I’m usually home for Thanksgiving, but I won’t be this time. (Apple’s) FaceTime will be used at a high level.

``But we’ll all be together (as a team), watching football, eating turkey and mashed potatoes and enjoying each other’s company,’’ Vogel added. ``We do have like an extended family here with this group and I love these guys. We’ll make the best of it.’’

ISAAC IMPROVING: The sight of rookie Jonathan Isaac working out again and doing strength-building exercises had to be a welcomed one for an Orlando team that has greatly missed the long-armed defense of the forward.

Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, sprained his ankle on Nov. 11 when he swatted the shot of Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, but he landed on the point guard’s foot, causing his own ankle to grotesquely roll over. Isaac initially thought he was close to returning after shedding the walking boot he wore the first three days after suffering the injury, but when swelling persisted, he was forced to stay on the sidelines. He missed his fifth straight game on Friday and the timetable for his return is still up in the air because he’s yet be cleared for basketball-related drills.

``I haven’t been able to do much on the court yet, but it’s still a lot of exercises trying to strengthen it up,’’ said Isaac, who has been limited mostly to free throw shooting thus far. ``Cutting side-to-side, putting a lot of pressure on it, right now, has been hurting it. Slowly, but surely, it’s been getting better every day and the swelling has been going down every day.’’

The 6-foot-10, 210-pounder easily made the transition from college to the pros, averaging 6.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and a team-best 1.3 blocks in his first 12 NBA games. His injury has come at a time when the Magic have struggled the most.

``You hate to say that you’re missing a 20-year-old, but we are,’’ Vogel admitted. ``He’s a dynamic player, especially on the defensive end.’’

Added Isaac: ``It’s definitely hard (watching), but I don’t attribute me being out to the reason (the team has struggled). We’ll snap back and hopefully me coming back will add a boost of energy. But it’s definitely been hard to not be able to say as much or be able to help them out there.’’

LONG HISTORY: When Orlando’s Aaron Gordon and Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins matched up against one another on Wednesday, it was simply the continuation of an old rivalry that dates back a decade.

When they were both 13, 14 and 15 years old, Gordon and Wiggins were two of the best basketball prospects in North America – even though Wiggins hailed from Toronto and Gordon was from San Jose, Calif. They faced off regularly in AAU tournaments and later became top picks in the 2014 NBA Draft – Wiggins the No. 1 pick by Minnesota and Gordon the No. 4 pick by the Magic.

``Since we were back in high school, I played him a lot because we were the top players in our class,’’ Wiggins said. ``So I got to face him a lot, whether it was AAU or high school. Every year, (Gordon) has gotten a lot better because he works at it. So, that’s not surprising.’’

Added Gordon: ``The first time I saw Andrew he was on a video mix tape and I had no idea who he was because he was from Canada. But he was the same age as me and doing the same (dunks) as me. He was such a talent, so skilled and such a good guy, so I’m super happy for him. I love how he competes and how he plays the game of basketball and it’s really cool how we’re both at the highest stage of basketball now.’’

SIXTH MAN ADMIRATION: Minnesota’s Jamal Crawford has long been considered one of the best reserve players in the NBA and has won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award three times (in 2010, 2014 and 2016).

When Crawford lauds a reserve, such as Orlando guard Jonathon Simmons, it carries a little more added weight. Simmons, who left the San Antonio Spurs to sign with the Magic last July, has caught the eye of Crawford after ranking fourth in the NBA in scoring among reserves, pumping in 14.4 points a night on average. That trails only Memphis’ Tyreke Evans (17.9 ppg.), Clippers’ guard Lou Williams (17.1 ppg.) and Lakers’ guard Jordan Clarkson (15.1 ppg.) for production off the bench.

``He’s been good and I’ve always liked his game and the way that he plays,’’ said Crawford, who is averaging 9.5 points a game this season for Minnesota. ``I always say you are as good or bad as the situation that you are in. With him, he had a little different role in San Antonio. He’s with a (Magic) team now that needs him to do a little more. (The Spurs) didn’t need him to do that, but he was always capable of doing it and kudos for him to showing that growth. I think he’s going to continue to be a terrific player.’’

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