By John Denton
Oct. 20, 2017
NEW YORK – An Orlando Magic team looking to push the pace and use their multitude of athletes figures to need all those weapons tonight against the Brooklyn Nets – another up-tempo team wanting to run as much as possible.
However, Orlando’s best pure athlete, power forward Aaron Gordon, could be slowed in a game that might very well resemble a track meet at times at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Gordon sprained his left ankle in Orlando’s season-opening defeat of the Miami Heat on Wednesday and is officially listed as questionable for tonight’s 7:30 p.m. tipoff in Brooklyn. Gordon didn’t practice on Thursday, but he did go through a Friday morning practice with the Magic (1-0). Afterward, Gordon said he didn’t like the way his ankle felt.
“Ehhhh, ehhhhhh,’’ Gordon said playfully when asked how his ankle felt as it was being wrapped in ice. “I came down on it pretty awkwardly last game in the second quarter when I got hit. So we’ll see (about playing tonight).’’
If Gordon can’t play, the Magic could give rookie Jonathan Isaac his first NBA start at power forward. The 20-year-old Isaac, who was the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, played well on Wednesday with four points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
Isaac did all of that despite forgetting to wear his jersey onto the court under his warmup. That problem was rectified on the bench midway through the first quarter before Isaac checked into the game.
Orlando is hoping to build momentum off its impressive 116-109 defeat of the Heat. Brooklyn, which re-tooled its roster in the offseason with the trade for guard D’Angelo Russell, lost its opener 140-131 in Indiana. In that game, the Nets also lost guard Jeremy Lin for the season with a ruptured patellar tendon in his knee.
Orlando led Miami 97-80 with 10 minutes to play, but it stopped pushing the pace and took several questionable shots. The Heat closed within 105-103 before the Magic pulled away behind some clutch shot-making from guard Evan Fournier.
Magic coach Frank Vogel said that while his team needs to resist getting lured into Brooklyn’s break-neck pace, he still wants it running and staying aggressive.
“We still want to attack early because fast break layups are the easiest way to close a game when you have a lead,’’ Vogel said. “But we can’t play fast and reckless. That’s the part where you have to slow it down and look for great shots only. (The Nets’) pace is terrific and they run on makes and misses. They run with space and it’s a very difficult style to guard.’’
Gordon, who is in his fourth NBA season, had a terrific preseason and showed signs of being poised for a breakout season. He made the switch from small forward to power forward midway through last season and he is back in his more natural spot this season, lending to the beliefs that he will thrive in Orlando’s up-tempo offense.
Gordon had a rough shooting night on Wednesday, making just four of 13 tries. He was clearly hampered by the ankle that he twisted after getting hit hard at the rim by Miami center Hassan Whiteside. He played through the pain of the injury over the final 2 ½ quarters, contributing 13 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
Gordon said the pain in his ankle kept him from doing much work on his game Thursday and Friday morning. He stressed that a final decision on his playing status will come closer to tip-off tonight. While Vogel sounded optimistic that the forward would play, Gordon’s confidence wasn’t as high and he noted that he didn’t want to push the injury and have it linger for several weeks of the season.
“It’s little painful, but I got some shots up (on Friday morning). We’ll see close to (game) time,’’ he said. “These (Magic Athletic Trainers) will take care of me and I’ll get it taped. If I’m not ready to go, I’m not ready to go and we’ve got plenty of guys who can step up.
“I want to be at my fullest when I play, so there’s no reason to push it,’’ he added.
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