By John Denton
April 6, 2017
ORLANDO – With all the national debate raging about NBA players resting and not playing when otherwise healthy, Elfrid Payton’s accomplishment this season – appearing in every Orlando Magic game – is a bright spot.
Payton appeared in his 79th game of the season on Thursday, making him the only Magic player to do that this season. Bismack Biyombo, who signed with Orlando in July, was suspended for the season-opener because of his accumulation of flagrant foul points from last spring’s playoffs, but has appeared in the rest of the 78 games.
If Payton can play in Orlando’s three remaining games – Saturday at home against Indiana; Monday in Chicago; and Wednesday versus Detroit – it will be the second time in his three NBA seasons that he has played all 82 games. The only absences of his three-year NBA career came last season when he had a bruised left ankle (four games) and a sprained right elbow (five games).
“I take a lot of pride in it,’’ Payton said of being available to his team every night. “It’s my job and something that I love to do. If I’m able and God is willing, I’m going to be there (for every game).’’
Payton, who came into Thursday averaging 12.6 points, a team-best 6.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds a game, appears to be getting stronger as the season goes along. He’s notched five triple-double performances since the all-star break, giving him seven such games in his career.
Payton doesn’t like talking about the plight of other players as it relates to injuries, but he said he can’t fathom why professional athletes would need rest from playing the game they grew up loving. From when he started playing Pee-Wee football as a kid until last season when he suffered the bruised ankle, Payton said he had never missed a game of any kind because of an injury or a need for rest.
“I play to win every game. God blessed me to be here and I feel like if it’s for you (to play every game), it’s for you,’’ Payton said. “I feel like what’s going to happen to you is going to happen to you whether you rest or not.’’
MAGIC MOVES: Evan Fournier, who has posted career highs in scoring (17.2 ppg.), rebounding (3.1 rpg.) and assists (3.0 apg.), was held out of action on Thursday with a right wrist injury that has bothered him part of last season and most of this season.
Also, to get an extended look at newcomers Patricio Garino and Marcus Georges-Hunt, the Magic made the decision to limit starting shooting guard Terrence Ross to just one half of play on Thursday. Garino and Georges-Hunt signed with the Magic on Monday after spending the season in the NBA Development League.
Fournier, who signed a lucrative contract extension with the Magic back in July, has shown more growth in his game this season, but he’s done it while playing through pain in his right wrist. He feels his inability to fully “snap’’ his wrist on his jump shot is one reason why his accuracy from the floor (43.8 percent), 3-point line (35 percent) and free throw stripe (80.1 percent) has taken a tumble. Last season, Fournier was one of just five qualifying players in the NBA to shoot at least 45 percent from the floor (46.2 percent), 40 percent from 3-point range (40 percent) and 80 percent from the free throw line (83.6 percent).
“It has (bothered him), but we don’t think it’s serious,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said of Fournier. “(It’s affected him) in a minor way, but he’s played through it.’’
Vogel, a self-proclaimed “old-school’’ thinker as it relates to resting healthy players, said that Ross wouldn’t be sitting out of Thursday’s game if the Magic were facing a team in the playoff chase. Vogel said he has no intentions of holding out Orlando’s primary rotation players if healthy on Saturday or Monday against Indiana or Chicago.
“I believe in maintaining the integrity of playoff races,’’ Vogel said. “I’ve been in those situations where one game could decide a lot and a team we’re playing sits a bunch of guys and then the next night they play all their guys against a team that I need to lose. That’s a difficult thing, so that’s how it is with me.’’
EARLIER/LATER GAME TIMES: The Magic’s home game against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night will start at 6 p.m. instead of the usual start time of 7 p.m. Doors to the Amway Center will open to fans at 4:30 p.m.
The final home game of the season – Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons – will be an 8 p.m. start time. That start time is set by the NBA to avoid scoreboard-watching among teams competing in the playoff chase.
The Magic have lost all three meetings this season against the Pacers, losing 88-69 and 117-104 in Indiana and 98-88 in Orlando. The Magic have taken two of three against the Pistons, capturing the two most recent meetings in suburban Detroit (98-92) and in Orlando (115-87).
SOMETHING DIFFERENT: Clearly, Payton doesn’t mind being a little bit different as evidenced by a floppy and unruly hairstyle that he’s worn since the start of his senior year of high school.
Recently, Payton has started wearing his practice jersey backward, meaning he has an oversized No. 4 on his chest and a Magic logo between his shoulder blades.
Is Payton trying to make some sort of fashion statement? Is he doing it as a tribute to someone or as a protest about an issue? Is he honoring former NBA bad boy Rasheed Wallace, who used to do the same thing during practices while playing for a variety of NBA teams?
None of the above, the point guard insisted innocently.
“I really don’t know how or why I started it, but I just thought I’d keep it going. I just did it, nothing special. There’s not a real story behind it,’’ Payton said. “I like Rasheed Wallace as a player, but it’s not really a tribute thing. Maybe I’ll do it in a summer game. (Magic center Nikola Vucevic) didn’t like it at first, but it’s grown on him. It doesn’t feel any different.’’
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