Nikola Vucevic Could Return to Practice Next Week

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

By John Denton Jan. 30, 2018

HOUSTON – With his surgically repaired hand healing quickly, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic is on the verge of ramping up his rehab in hopes that he can return to game action as soon as possible.

Vucevic, who fractured the second metacarpal near his index finger on his left hand on Dec. 23, went through non-contact drills with teammates in Tuesday morning’s practice. Up next for Vucevic is some ``controlled contact’ drills where the 7-footer will scrimmage against Magic assistant coaches. If all goes well with that, he could be cleared for a full return to practice with the Magic as soon as next week.

``I’m going to do a couple of drills where it’s controlled contact, I guess, where I’m doing stuff with (assistant coaches) Matt (Hill) and Corliss (Williamson) and playing with them and they will hit me and see how I react to that,’’ Vucevic said on Tuesday prior to the Magic’s game in Houston. ``After a couple of days of that I should be good to go for full contact with the team and all. That’s one of the biggest steps I need to clear for full contact.’’

Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on the Magic, had surgery on Jan. 26 where nine pins were inserted into his left hand to stabilize the fractured bone. He rejoined the team in Orlando a week after the surgery and has been travelling with the squad since Jan. 8.

In 34 games, Vucevic ranked third on the team in scoring (17.4 points per game), first in rebounds (9.3 rpg.) while averaging a career-best 3.3 assists per game. He has scored at least 20 points 13 times this season and has had three games with at least 30 points, including a career-best 41-point effort in Brooklyn on Oct. 20.

Vucevic feels that his conditioning is strong from the work he’s put in before and after practices. Also, the pain and stiffness in his hand – where he still sports a bright, red scar – has dissipated.

``A lot less (pain) than last week,’’ Vucevic said. ``Not as much pain as it was just sensitive. When I catch the ball, it would hurt a little bit, but now it’s fine. I did some of the non-contact stuff with the guys … and shooting drills and when I would catch (the basketball), it was fine. So that was a big step, too. It’s getting there, and it shouldn’t be too far now.’’

AG AILING: When he awkwardly twisted and felt a pull in his left hip on Saturday, Aaron Gordon played through that pain and thought nothing else of the injury. However, when the Magic forward woke up Sunday morning, he knew he might be dealing with something that could knock him out of action for a period of time.

Gordon’s strained left hip flexor kept him out of Tuesday’s game in Houston and it will most likely shelve him on Wednesday when the Magic are back at the Amway Center to face the Los Angeles Lakers. Beyond that, Gordon isn’t sure when he will play again because of the tricky nature of the injury that he suffered on Saturday night in Orlando’s 114-112 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

``I was trying to make a defensive stop, sliding toward the baseline and I planted and got bumped at the same time. It was just an awkward pull,’’ Gordon said of getting injured with approximately four minutes remaining in Saturday’s fourth quarter. ``I’m glad it’s just a strain and nothing too severe. I felt it throughout the rest of the game and after the game and when I woke up (Sunday morning). It feels better, but it’s still not there.’’

Being forced to face Houston without Gordon was a huge blow for the Magic because they could have used the forward’s defensive versatility against the Rockets. At 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, Gordon has the strength, length and quickness to guard everyone from James Harden to Ryan Anderson to Clint Capella. Going forward, the Magic will have to adjust their starting five and forwards Mario Hezonja and Khem Birch could get the majority of the minutes.

``Significantly,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said when asked how not having Gordon impacts his team. ``Especially when you would have him on Harden most of the night and you need switching flexibility most of the night and size on Ryan Anderson. And (Gordon) is a guy who can hurt switches as well. It’s a big loss, but, you know, we’re going to be focused on the guys who are in uniform.’’

Gordon’s injury hits just as the Magic are about to play their first back-to-back set of games since Dec. 22 and 23. Following tonight’s game and an early-morning arrival back into Orlando, the Magic will be host the Lakers on Wednesday. Vogel doesn’t think the team will have Gordon for that game either.
``He’s not able to go through shoot-around (on Tuesday) morning, so I’d guess it’s unlikely that he plays (on Wednesday).’’

Gordon is Orlando’s leading scorer this season at 18.4 points per game and he’s averaging a career-best 8.3 rebounds a game. He has led the Magic in scoring 13 times and in rebounding 12 times. He has two 40-point games, four 30-point games and 11 20-point games this season.

SCHEDULING QUIRK: This season, the NBA started its regular season a week earlier in an attempt to build in more off days of rest for teams before and after difficult stretches of games.

That’s certainly been the case of late for the Magic. Prior to Tuesday, Orlando had played just six times in the previous 18 days, getting two three-day breaks and two more two-day breaks without games.

However, that run of rest came to an end on Tuesday with the Magic facing one of the toughest tasks in the NBA – the dreaded West-to-East back-to-back set of games.

Because Tuesday’s game in Houston didn’t tipoff until after 8 p.m. ET, the Magic were scheduled to arrive back in Orlando early Wednesday morning until after 2 a.m. Then, less than 24 hours after facing the Rockets, the Magic will back on the floor at the Amway Center to host the Lakers.

``It’s definitely imperfect sitting around all (these) days,’’ Vogel said of the schedule. ``Then, you’ve got to play a West/East back-to-back and it’s not ideal. But we’ll worry about things that are under my control and you can’t control the schedule. We’re going to play 82 games – 41 at home and 41 on the road. That’s all I focus on.’’

UP NEXT: As mentioned previously, the Magic will be back at home on Wednesday to face the Los Angeles Lakers. It is the first meeting of the season between the Magic and the Lakers. After Wednesday, the Toronto Raptors will be the only team that the Magic have yet to play this season.

The Magic and Lakers split two meetings last season with each team winning at home. Orlando has actually won the last four games against the Lakers at the Amway Center. Last season, the Magic set a franchise record against the Lakers by blocking nine shots in a quarter in a 109-90 victory. That total broke the previous record for blocked shots in a quarter (eight) that had stood for 24 years.

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