Postgame Report: Magic vs. Nuggets

By John Denton
Dec. 8, 2017

ORLANDO – Just when an Orlando Magic team already suffering from a rash of injuries thought things couldn’t possibly get worse for them, sadly they did on a forgettable Friday.

Already without Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac and Terrence Ross because of injuries, Orlando looked on in horror as standout forward Aaron Gordon ran face-first into a foe’s shoulder and suffered a concussion.

Already wobbly and lacking firepower, the Magic fell flat after Gordon went to the floor and came up a bit bloody following the collision with Denver’s Gary Harris. Forced to play without its two top scorers and two other key players, Orlando’s offense predictably had little punch and it went quietly in a 103-89 loss to the Nuggets at the Amway Center.

As if that wasn’t enough already for the Magic to deal with, then came other bizarre news late Friday night: Because of a massive, sweeping weather system left much of the South blanketed in snow, Orlando’s postgame flight to Atlanta for the next night’s game was postponed until Saturday morning.

The hits, as they say, keep on coming for the battered and beaten up Magic (11-16). Orlando will board its plane on Saturday morning without the scoring of Gordon (18.3 ppg.), Fournier (18.3 ppg.), Ross (9.0 ppg.) and Isaac (6.1 ppg.).

``It’s tough, but everybody in the league has injuries,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``We can’t feel sorry for ourselves and we’ve got to go out and get a `W’ (Saturday) night. We’ll have five guys on the floor – capable NBA players who are here for a reason – and we’ve got to execute well enough offensively and defensively to get a `W.’’’

Gordon, one of Orlando’s most improved and dynamic players all season, will now be subject to the rules of the NBA’s concussion protocol, meaning he will need to pass a battery of tests and be cleared by an independent physician before he is allowed to return to action. Gordon drove to his left along the baseline midway through the third quarter only to run face-face into Harris’ shoulder. He stayed down on the floor for several seconds before getting up and being evaluated by Athletic Trainer Keon Weise.

Gordon stayed in the game and later drilled a 3-pointer, but he exited with 1:11 left the third quarter and did not return. The hard hit and concussion ended an otherwise dismal night for Gordon, who made just five of 12 shots and one of four 3-pointers. He scored 14 points in 28 minutes.

Afterward, Magic center Nikola Vucevic – a lone bright spot with 21 points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots – had a pointed message for Gordon. Having suffered two concussions himself early in his NBA career, Vucevic told Gordon to listen to team doctors and take his time in getting back.

``As soon as I saw him, I told him to take his time,’’ said Vucevic, who has blocked four shots in consecutive games for the first time in his career. ``When it comes to an ankle, a shoulder or a knee, if it’s a bruise or a sprain or something like that, you can play through it if it’s sore. But with a concussion, you don’t play through that. That’s not something you want to mess with because that’s your brain and it controls everything. I told him to make sure he’s 100 percent before he comes back.’’

In a stretch of the schedule where they are playing four of five games at home and hoping to get their record back to .500, the Magic instead dropped a winnable game against the previously slumping Nuggets (14-11). Orlando shot just 40.2 percent from the floor and made only five of 20 3-pointers. Denver, which got 20 points from Kenneth Faried, 19 from Will Barton and 18 from Emmanuel Mudiay, held a 53-16 advantage in bench scoring in the game.

``Things happen, it’s the NBA and I’ve seen it happen for years with players getting hurt and guys have to step up,’’ said Magic guard Jonathon Simmons, who finished with 21 points, but had just five after halftime. ``They just picked up the pressure on us and we couldn’t score as a group. Guys just have to step up and play better basketball.’’

Orlando, which lost in Denver on Nov. 11, has lost nine of the last 11 games against the Nuggets. Elfrid Payton chipped in 11 points and six assists, but it was hardly enough on a night when the Magic offense mostly misfired.

Arron Afflalo, who is hoping to recapture the form he had four seasons ago while leading Orlando in scoring, got the start in place of Fournier, but couldn’t get much going. He had six points, four rebounds and a blocked shot in 25 minutes.

Denver wasn’t without injury issues of its own. The Nuggets were without their two best players in Paul Millsap (wrist surgery) and Nikola Jokic (ankle sprain). Playing short-handed led to Denver losing four straight games before Friday by a combined 85 points, but it got right against the hobbled Magic.

Orlando was playing its first game this season without Fournier, who sprained his right ankle on the first basket of overtime in Wednesday’s defeat of the Atlanta Hawks. Fournier is averaging career bests in scoring (18.3 ppg.), field goal percentage (47.8 percent) and 3-point range accuracy (41.5 percent). He has been a strong barometer of the Magic’s success this season as they are 3-0 when he scores 25-or-more points and 8-5 when he tops the 20-point plateau.

``He’s a really improved defender. That’s not his forte, but he’s been really locked into his assignments mentally,’’ Vogel said of Fournier prior to tipoff. ``His off-the-ball shooting and the ability to run stuff through him, whether it’s pick-and-rolls or his (dribble-handoffs) game – that’s where we will miss him.’’

Already struggling to find much of anything that would work, Orlando’s offense sputtered and its defense got shelled in the third quarter. That resulted in an 81-70 deficit heading into the fourth.

Once 6 of 20 from the floor in the first quarter, Denver drilled 28 of 46 shots (61 percent) over the second and third quarters to break the game open. Of the Nuggets’ 67 points in those two periods, a whopping 36 of them came in the paint as they got to the rim time and again for point-blank looks.

Meanwhile, Orlando’s offense ground to a halt, mustering just eight baskets in the third period. Then, came Gordon’s collision with Gary Harris that left his lip bloodied, his face red and blotchy and his eyes glassy.

Gordon’s concussion – the first of his NBA career – will likely keep him sidelined for some time and keep the Magic searching for ways to jump-start a sputtering offense missing several key cogs. On Friday night, however, the thoughts centered more around their injured star.

``This isn’t like an ankle where you can play through the soreness; you can’t risk this at all,’’ Vucevic said of Gordon’s concussion. ``We obviously see a lot of issues that NFL players have had (with concussions) and this is something you definitely don’t want to mess with. So, I just told him, `Make sure you are 100 percent before you’re back.’’’

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