Vucevic and Gordon Injury Update

by John Denton

INDIANAPOLIS – Two magnetic resonance imaging tests revealed on Thursday what the Orlando Magic initially feared when they saw center Nikola Vucevic and forward Aaron Gordon go down with ankle injuries – they will be without the two standout starters for at least a short period of time.

Vucevic, an all-star last season and the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, was diagnosed with a lateral sprain of his right ankle following an MRI on Thursday. The 7-footer, who is in his eighth season with the Magic, will be re-evaluated in approximately seven-to-10 days, meaning he will most likely miss the next five games and maybe more.

As for Gordon, the news is a bit more encouraging for the Magic. An MRI revealed that he has a right ankle contusion. His return to game action will be dependent on how his ankle responds to therapy.

Orlando travelled from Toronto to Indianapolis on Thursday and had the day off from practice. The Magic (6-8) will practice in Indy on Friday and will face the Pacers (8-6) on Saturday (tip time: 7 p.m.; TV: Fox Sports Florida). The Magic also play in Detroit (Monday) and Cleveland (Wednesday) on this four-game, nine-night road trip.

Vucevic and Gordon, two of the driving forces on a Magic team that won 42 games and reached the NBA playoffs last spring, were injured in a 3-minute, 23-second stretch of Wednesday night’s second quarter in Toronto – a game that Orlando ultimately lost 113-97 to the Raptors. Gordon went down after jumping for a rebound and landing on the back of a teammate’s leg, causing his right ankle to twist. Vucevic landed awkwardly after trying to contest a Norman Powell drive through the lane and crumpled to the floor in obvious pain.

Both Vucevic and Gordon left Toronto’s ScotiaBank Arena on Wednesday night wearing walking boots and using crutches to aid in walking. Both also talked about the pain they felt when their ankles twisted and forced them out of action. While hoping for the best, both players feared that their ankle injuries were significant even before Thursday’s MRIs.

``It’s very disappointing because injuries really suck,’’ said Vucevic, who is coming off his best week of the season after leading the Magic to three straight wins. ``Unfortunately, they are a part of the job that we do, and I wish they didn’t happen and it’s unfortunate. It’s obviously bad timing for us as well because we have a very tough road trip and we had just started playing better. I believe that we have guys who are going to step up.’’

Gordon said this was at least the third ankle injury of the young season that he has already suffered, but he was able to play through the first two with few limitations. This one, however, caused a different sort of pain in his ankle.

``This is probably the worst (ankle sprain) of the year,’’ Gordon said on Wednesday night. ``I rolled my ankles a couple of times this year, but I’ve been able to kind of keep going, but this one is the worst (of the season).’’

Orlando was mostly able to avoid major injuries last season while closing with a 22-9 kick and posting a 42-40 record. The Magic’s top six contributors last season – Vucevic (two games), Gordon (four games), Evan Fournier (one game), Terrence Ross (one game), D.J. Augustin (one game) and Jonathan Isaac (seven games) – combined to miss just 16 games last season.

The Magic got some work without Vucevic and Gordon in Wednesday’s second half. They started veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu in place of Gordon and reserve center Khem Birch in place of Vucevic. Aminu had three points and five rebounds in nearly 23 minutes on Wednesday, while Birch played well and chipped in 12 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes of action.

Second-year center Mo Bamba will split time with Birch at the center position, while nearly 7-foot forward Jonathan Isaac is an option at center in some small-ball lineups.

Still, the Magic will likely have trouble replicating the production of arguably their best offensive player (Vucevic) and their best one-on-one defender (Gordon). Vucevic is tied with Fournier for the team lead in scoring (17.1), while also pacing the squad in rebounding (11.6), tying for second in assists (3.5) and ranking second in blocked shots (1.1).

The 6-foot9, 235-pound Gordon has averaged 13.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 14 games thus far, but it’s on the defensive end where he is the most valuable for the Magic. Just last week, Gordon shined defensively against Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, San Antonio’s Rudy Gay and Washington’s Davis Bertans in Orlando victories.

Vucevic, who resigned with the Magic in free agency back in July, is no stranger to injuries that have shelved him mid-season. He was limited to just 57 games in 2017-18 after needing surgery to repair a fractured bone in his left hand. In his first five seasons in Orlando from 2012-17, he played in 348 of a possible 410 games while battling Achilles, ankle and concussion injuries. Last season, Vucevic appeared in a career-best 80 games and posted highs in scoring (20.8), rebounding (12.0) and assists (3.8).

Vucevic vowed to do whatever he could from the sidelines to help Birch, Bamba and Isaac as they attempt to replace him.

``Hopefully it won’t be too long (out of action), but as long as I’m out I’ll try to talk to them and see how I can help from the sideline,’’ Vucevic said. ``Hopefully I won’t have to do that for much, but if I do, I’ll try to help the guys out as much as I can.’’

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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