By John Denton
Oct. 30, 2017
NEW ORLEANS – Quite possibly, the only thing Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton despises more than missing basketball games is missing them when they are a five-minute drive from his childhood home and he has dozens of family and friends in the crowd.
Payton was back near his hometown of Gretna, La., on Monday night, but he still missed his fifth consecutive game because of a hamstring strain he suffered on Oct. 20. Payton once again worked out before Monday’s game and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday – a day off for the Magic – with hopes that he could be ready to play by Wednesday in Memphis.
“I’m making a little progress, but I’m trying not to push myself too hard because hamstrings are a little tricky,’’ Payton said after his on-court sprint and shooting work. “This is pretty upsetting because I have a bunch of people supposed to come to the game and it’s unfortunate. But missing this one is just like missing Charlotte or missing San Antonio.’’
Payton, Orlando’s only player to appear in all 82 games in the 2016-17 and 2014-15 seasons, came into this year poised for a breakout campaign and he got off to a strong start in the opener. However, the hamstring injury knocked him out of action and he’s struggled with trying to be patient while rehabilitating his leg twice daily.
“Every day these last two or three days we’ve trying to get after it a little bit and test my limits without re-injuring it. We’re trying to be smart about it,’’ said Payton, who had 20 tickets for family and friends and he also purchased two suites at the Smoothie King Center to hold the overflow of crowd on hand to see him. “It’s extremely tough (to not over-do it). Being an athlete all we know is pushing ourselves while trying to get into shape and get to another level. But now I’m trying to push myself without re-injuring it. It’s a fine line and I’m trying not to toe it, but I want to get back.’’
ROSS STILL CONFIDENT: As the Magic racked up some of the best offensive numbers in the NBA and accomplished feats no other team in franchise history had ever reached, one of their top weapons – shooting guard Terrence Ross – was mostly a bystander.
As the Magic were surging to a 4-1 start and scoring at least 114 points in all of those five games for the first time ever to open a season, Ross mostly struggled with his shot and finding his place in the offense. On Sunday, when the Magic came out flat defensively and lacked the shot-making it possessed early on, they turned to Ross hoping he could bail them out of a 120-113 loss in Charlotte. Now, with Ross still struggling to find his niche in the offense, the Magic know they must find a way to try and build the confidence of one of their most reliable 3-point shooters.
Ross, whom the Magic acquired last February in a trade with Toronto because of his ability to burn foes from the arc, came into Monday’s game in New Orleans shooting just 29.8 percent from the floor and 23.1 percent from 3-point range. Even more troubling is the fact that two of Ross’ worst performances came as the Magic were routing Cleveland (one of 11) and San Antonio (one of six) and he missed 14 of his 15 3-point attempts before Monday’s game.
“For sure, (he’s comfortable with his shot), and you’re going to make some and miss some,’’ Ross said after going six-of-15 overall and one-of-five from 3-point range on Sunday. “The key thing is you just have to keep shooting and keep playing the game and you’ll get back into the rhythm.’’
Ross’ rhythm could have been knocked out of whack by him missing a week late in the preseason with a strained hamstring and a stomach bug. Magic coach Frank Vogel tried getting him more shots and more involved in the offense on Sunday by playing him with four reserves at times. He played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter but managed just one field goal and an assist.
“That just means he’s about to get hot,’’ Vogel joked recently. “Just as we talked about a regression to the mean with our team, that just means Terrence is about to get hot for us.’’
EYES ON THE MAGIC: Orlando’s 114-87 whipping of the San Antonio Spurs – a game in which it led by as much as 36 points in the second half – certainly opened a lot of eyeballs around the NBA as to the Magic’s progress toward being a contender.
That game also attracted a lot of attention locally among Magic fans eager to see their team against the perennially powerful Spurs.
According to data from Fox Sports Florida – the official television home of the Magic – last Friday’s game was the most watched Orlando game on the network since April 1, 2016. That April of 2016 game was against Milwaukee and it came on the heels of a three-game winning streak by the Magic.
FULL NELSON: Some 13 years after Jameer Nelson was thought to be too short and too shot happy, he’s still in the NBA and playing at a high level for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Nelson, now 35, was acquired on draft night in 2004 by the Magic after he had fallen to the 20th pick. The 6-foot Nelson went on to play 651 games over 10 seasons with the Magic and he is still the franchise’s all-time leader in assists (3,501).
Nelson and the Magic mutually decided to part ways in 2014 and since then he’s played for Dallas, Boston, Denver and New Orleans. He was waived by the Nuggets earlier this season and picked the injury-ravaged Pelicans among the teams clamoring for him to sign.
“I was fortunate to have a lot of teams reach out to me and obvious people still think I have stuff left and I know I do, so I’m going to continue to acclimate myself here and help them win,’’ said Nelson, who made a victory-sealing shot in his first game with the Pelicans against the Lakers.
Nelson, who came into Monday’s game averaging 8.3 points, 4.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds a game, takes a lot of pride in the fact that he is still in the NBA despite the doubters he encountered early in his career.
“It just shows you want the experts know,’’ said Nelson, who hopes to get into coaching or front-office work upon the conclusion of his career. “My work ethic and my supporting cast have taken me far beyond what the experts believed I would go. So, I’m going to continue to work, try to get better and stick around as long as I can.’’
UP NEXT: After playing on Sunday and Monday, the Magic will have Tuesday off. They will wrap up their three-game road trip on Wednesday against the Grizzlies in Memphis.
The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Friday to face the rebuilding Chicago Bulls.
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.