Sore Foot Keeps Bamba Out Against Jazz

by John Denton

SALT LAKE CITY – As is the case with most raw rookies in the NBA, Mo Bamba’s first season with the Orlando Magic has been filled with plenty of highs and lows.

On Wednesday, Bamba hit another minor blip when he was unable to play in the final game of the Magic’s six-game, 11-night road trip.

Bamba, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, was held out of Wednesday’s game in Utah because of a sore left foot. Bamba injured his foot on Monday in Sacramento when he played nearly 13 minutes and grabbed five rebounds. He tried going through the team’s shoot-around session on Wednesday morning and his pregame routine later in the day, but the Magic’s medical staff made the final decision to hold him out of action.

Bamba has yet to have X-rays on the foot and the injury isn’t deemed to be serious. The fact that Orlando doesn’t play again until Saturday weighed into the decision, head coach Steve Clifford said.

``This morning there was a little discomfort and I went through shootaround and I thought it would get better, but the symptoms kind of remained the same,’’ Bamba said. ``I went through my pregame shooting and it got a little better during my shooting, but it’s just a little pain.

``I don’t think it’s an acute injury, but we just played five (games) in eight (nights), so that’s tough,’’ he said. ``I’m willing to play through whatever, but our medical staff is doing a good job of making sure that I’m good to go.’’

Bamba, a 7-footer with a 7-foot, 10-inch wingspan, missed just the second of his NBA career. He missed the Dec. 10 in Dallas because of a team-related disciplinary reason.

``We have a couple of days off after this, so it makes sense to rest it,’’ said Clifford, who promoted Khem Birch to backup center behind starter Nikola Vucevic on Wednesday. ``Hopefully he’ll be ready by Saturday (when Orlando hosts the Boston Celtics).’’

Bamba’s injury prevented him playing once again against Utah center Rudy Gobert, the NBA player that Bamba is most compared to because of his expansive wingspan. When the two met for the first time at the NBA level a month ago in Mexico City, Bamba keyed a 41-point, fourth-quarter explosion by the Magic and the rookie finished with nine rebounds, four rebounds, two assists and four blocked shots.

``The obvious thing is his length and his ability to protect the rim,’’ Utah coach Quin Snyder said. ``Every now and then you will see a young player do something that’s unique and he had one move (against the Jazz previously) at a crucial time in the game when he went left and had a reverse layup on the other side of the rim. You look at that and say, `Wow, there’s a lot there.’ He’s a young player and Cliff does an unbelievable job and (GM) John (Hammond) and (President of Basketball Operations) Jeff (Weltman) obviously know what they have (in Bamba) and that’s why they drafted him. He’s a promising young talent and he impacted the game on both ends of the floor.’’

For the season, Bamba has averaged 6.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and a team-best 1.38 blocked shots in 16.6 minutes a game. He scored a career-best 15 points in his hometown of New York on Nov. 11 and he grabbed 12 rebounds at Charlotte on Dec. 31 at Charlotte. He’s blocked a shot in 30 of the 39 games he’s played in and two or more 16 times.

HALFWAY POINT OF THE SEASON: Wednesday’s game in Utah allowed the Magic to hit the official halfway point of the season with 41 games down and 41 games to go. They have compiled a 10-11 record in games when they were designated as the home team, but two of those victories came in Mexico City. The Magic played especially well on the road early in the season, winning in Boston, San Antonio, Miami and Los Angeles and suffering narrow defeats at Golden State, Philadelphia and Portland.

Nothing sums up the Magic’s inconsistent nature more than this: For every impressive defeat of Boston, Toronto, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers (twice), there has been a humbling defeat to Phoenix, Chicago and Washington.

``We’re right there and hopefully we can string some consistency together. That would get us right back there in the mix,’’ Magic forward Aaron Gordon said on Wednesday. ``When we have (strong performances), we’ve proven that we can play with anybody.’’

Clifford said he has been delighted with his team’s worth ethic and its desire to help get the franchise into the playoffs for the first time since 2012. However, Clifford continues to be concerned about the Magic’s lagging bench play and he stressed the team will continue to battle consistency issues until it gets more players playing well on a nightly basis.

``Overall, I’m happy with the work part and we have a number of very serious players who badly want to win,’’ Clifford said. ``We have a way that we can play that will give us a chance every night.

``The challenge, obviously, has been, the longer that we go, it’s been finding a way to put 48 good minutes together night in and night out,’’ Clifford added. ``I even shared with them some of the lineup combinations that are working and aren’t working. I think they have to see that. The bottom line is we have to get better play from more people.’’

UP NEXT: Following their six-game road trip that spanned 11 days and four time zones, the Magic will get two days to rest and practice prior to returning to action with a rather difficult back-to-back set of games.

The Magic were set to leave immediately after Wednesday’s game and return to Central Florida in the early-morning hours of Thursday. Orlando will be back on the practice floor on Friday and will take on the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets on Saturday and Sunday at the Amway Center.

So far this season, the Magic are 8-8 in back-to-back sets of games. They are 6-2 in the first game, but only 2-6 in the second night of those back-to-backs.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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