Sore Hamstring Keeps Elfrid Payton Out in Denver
By John Denton
Nov. 11, 2017
DENVER – Looking to protect one of their most valuable assets from a potential injury setback, the Orlando Magic held point guard Elfrid Payton and his sore left hamstring out of action on Saturday against the Denver Nuggets.
Payton, Orlando’s starter at point guard much of the past 3 ½ seasons, missed eight games from Oct. 21-Nov. 7 after straining his left hamstring on a hard drive to the rim. He returned last Wednesday and played fabulously, recording 11 points, 11 assists and six rebounds in a win against the New York Knicks. However, Payton experienced discomfort in the leg again afterward – something Magic head coach Frank Vogel dubbed ``a concern’’ – but the point guard pushed through it to play 17 foul-plagued minutes (with eight points, seven assists and four rebounds) in Friday’s defeat of the Phoenix Suns.
With the Magic playing on the second night of a back-to-back set of games and the team slated for an off day on Sunday, the team felt it wise to give Payton’s hamstring an additional two days off to recover. Complicating matters is the fact that D.J. Augustin – the replacement point guard who played well during Payton’s first absence – is also out with a strained left hamstring.
``We’re just being smart,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said of the decision to rest Payton. ``He’s looked good the past couple of games, but the one thing that he hasn’t done since he’s gotten back is play in a back-to-back where you’re playing, traveling and arriving late at night (and playing again). If he still has some tightness in there it’s a concern. We have seven of our next nine on the road. So, it’s not a setback; we’re just being smart with it.’’
Orlando started veteran Shelvin Mack on Saturday a night after his stellar nine-point, six-assist effort in Phoenix. In addition to believing in the talents of Mack, the Magic wanted to keep super sub Jonathon Simmons in his role off the bench, especially after he battered the Suns for 17 points, three rebounds and two steals in 26 game-turning minutes on Friday.
Vogel said getting Payton beyond this injury is a top priority for the Magic. After all, the Magic are 3-0 in games that he’s finished this season.
``He’s got to keep treating it and not overdo it. And that’s part of the reason why he’s not playing tonight,’’ Vogel said. ``There’s a risk of overdoing it and having a setback and we don’t want that.’’
AARON ASCENSION: To lend some perspective as to how far Aaron Gordon has come as a 3-point shooter it would almost be the equivalent of the Magic going from 29 wins a season ago to World Champions in 2018.
Gordon not only shot 28.8 percent from 3-point range last season, he came into the 2017-18 campaign as a career 28.9 percent shooter from beyond the arc in three years at the NBA level. Over the final 24 games of last season, when Gordon’s game first started to blossom, he, by and large, avoided even taking threes because of his lack of success there and made fewer than one a game over that six-week stretch.
Fast forward to Saturday, when Gordon incredibly and improbably came into the Magic’s showdown against the Nuggets as the NBA’s leader in 3-point shooting. After making four 3-pointers on Wednesday against New York and both of his tries in Orlando’s rout of Phoenix on Friday, Gordon was 25 of 42 for a jaw-dropping 59.5 percent beyond the arc.
Quick to credit the tireless work he put in over the summer to improve, Gordon said he also has much more comfort and confidence with his stroke.
``It’s still early, but I’m just shooting the ball the way that I know I can,’’ Gordon said. ``I’m shooting confidently and looking for the right looks. I’m just going to continue to shoot the ball.’’
In addition to jokingly saying that all the credit for Gordon’s improvement should go to his guidance, Magic head coach Frank Vogel attributed Gordon’s growth to his health and work over the summer. Gordon missed valuable training camp time three years in a row because of foot, jaw and ankle injuries, but he’s stayed mostly healthy thus far. Vogel said Gordon’s addition of a 3-point threat has made him a much more well-rounded player and it has turned him into a nightmare cover for defenders.
``It’s harder to get to the rim if they’re not honoring your jump shots, so that’s part of why he hasn’t broken through in terms of being multi-dimensional,’’ Vogel said. ``Hard work is a beautiful thing and I’m proud of him. Hopefully he can keep it going. I’m happy for Aaron because that (3-point shot) has been the knock on him in his career and he seems to have turned that around with hard work and perseverance.’’
A.G FOR A DIFFERENT KIND OF THREE: Playing on Friday two hours from where he went to college at the University of Arizona – where doubts first started about his abilities as a shooter from long-range – Gordon drilled a 3-pointer in the second quarter and another in the third.
The 6-foot-9, high-flying forward had 11 points in that third quarter and the Magic were a plus-13 on the scoreboard in his 12 minutes on the floor. His favorite moment of the night, fittingly, was a 3-pointer – albeit one he set up with the pass instead of his own shot.
Even though he had it rolling, Gordon drew the defense to him on a drive and dished the ball to a wide-open Shelvin Mack for a 3-pointer that sent the Magic on their way to another big victory.
``I love passing, assisting is fun and assisting is scoring on the same level to me,’’ Gordon said. ``Seeing Shelvin open in the corner and making that extra pass, it’s just as rewarding seeing Shelvin make the three as it is me getting the bucket.’’
UP NEXT: After playing Friday in Phoenix and Saturday in Denver, Orlando will get a much-needed day of rest on Sunday. The Magic will need every bit of prep time that they can get considering that the World Champion Golden State Warriors are next on the docket on Monday night in Oakland.
After facing the Warriors, the Magic will head to Portland and wrap their road trip on Wednesday against the Trail Blazers.
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