By John Denton Dec. 26, 2017
MIAMI – Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair the fractured second metacarpal in his left hand and the hope is that the 7-foot center can return in a couple of months.
Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on the Magic, fractured the area near the index finger on his left hand in the Magic’s loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday night. Vucevic’s finger was bent back following a collision with center Ian Mahinmi and he almost immediately doubled over in pain. X-rays in the postgame showed the fracture.
There is no definitive timetable on Vucevic’s return, but most similar hand injuries keep players out of action for at least six to eight weeks. That could put his return in the Feb. 6-20 range.
Vucevic had played some of his best basketball of late as he tried to fill the void created by injuries to Evan Fournier (ankle sprain), Aaron Gordon (calf strain), Terrence Ross (knee sprain) and Jonathan Isaac (ankle Sprain). Vucevic registered the first triple-double of his career on Dec. 9 in Atlanta and had averaged 18.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his previous 10 games, including Saturday’s injury-shortened night.
Fournier, Vucevic’s closest friend on the team, talked to the big man on Monday and prior to Tuesday’s afternoon surgery and said his spirits were high.
``Vooch is doing fine,’’ Fournier said. ``Vooch is a positive person and he’s always enjoying life. Of course, it’s tough breaking a bone and it’s never fun being away from basketball for two months. But you’ve got to control everything that you can control and we’re all hoping everything goes well with his surgery and he’ll be back stronger. We just want him to have a good rehab and get back as soon as he can.’’
FOURNIER, ISAAC BACK; GORDON STILL AILING: After originally ruling forward Evan Fournier out and planning to start veteran Arron Afflalo at small forward, the Magic reversed course an hour before tipoff and announced that Fournier was not only active, but was starting.
Orlando also got rookie forward Jonathan Isaac back on Tuesday. Isaac, who missed 17 straight games from Nov. 12 through Dec. 16 because of a sprained ankle, came back to play against Detroit (Dec. 17) and Chicago (Dec. 20) before re-injuring the joint and missing the next two games. Magic coach Frank Vogel planned to keep Isaac’s minutes at about 20 on Tuesday with that number hopefully rising as Isaac’s conditioning improves.
``We just want him to do what we’re asking him to do – be himself, guard and play within himself offensively,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said.
Fournier missed eight straight games with an ankle injury that happened when he accidentally landed on Vucevic’s foot on Dec. 6, causing his own ankle to roll over. Without Fournier – their top scorer and go-to threat in close games – the Magic dropped all eight games.
In addition to dealing with the pain in his foot, Fournier has been dealing with the frustration of the manner in which his injury occurred.
``Ankle injuries are really dumb because you just step on someone else’s foot instead of hurting it by yourself,’’ Fournier said. ``So it’s been frustrating, but it is what it is.’’
Gordon went through some phases of the Magic’s morning practice and left American Airlines Arena on Tuesday wearing a large ice bag taped to his right leg. He is still experiencing soreness in the leg and his return could still be days away.
BEEN HERE BEFORE: The lineup the Magic put on the floor on Tuesday night was very different than the one that opened the season on Oct. 18 against the Miami Heat. That night, Elfrid Payton, Vucevic, Fournier, Gordon and Ross started. Only two of those starters – Payton and Fournier – were available to play on Tuesday in the rematch against Miami.
Vogel said the only other time he’s been around a team that has experienced this many injuries to main players was in 2014-15 when he was the coach of the Indiana Pacers.
That season, superstar forward Paul George played just six games after suffering a compound fracture in his leg while competing for USA Basketball in August of 2014. The injuries didn’t end there as George Hill (39 games out), David West (16 games out), Roy Hibbert (six games out), C.J. Miles (12 games out) and Rodney Stuckey (11 games out) all missed significant time.
That Pacers team was mostly able to overcome the setbacks and finished at 38-44. They tied with Brooklyn for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, but missed the playoffs because of a tiebreaker.
``It’s unique, but the closest thing I encountered was when Paul George was out for (most of the) year,’’ Vogel recounted. ``We had a mission to try and become a great team without Paul, but then the rest of the team got hurt too. David West missed two months, George Hill missed a month and Roy Hibbert missed some time. It was that kind of year, but we improved as the year went along. … That’s our mission now – to try and become a great team even with guys out injured.’’
UP NEXT: The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Thursday when they host the Detroit Pistons. The Magic lost 114-110 in Detroit on Dec. 17 – a game that Orlando trailed by as much as 24 points before storming back within five in the fourth quarter. Mario Hezonja scored a career-best 28 points that night and buried eight 3-pointers – another career high.
Thursday’s game will be the first of a two-game home stand as the Magic will face the Heat again in Orlando on Saturday night. Orlando beat the Heat 116-109 at the Amway Center in the season-opener on Oct. 18.
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