Vucevic hopes to play Friday, says injured ankle feels ‘good’
Center was averaging double-double when he got hurt in November
Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic is inching closer to a return to the lineup from a sprained ankle, and he is hoping he can play against the Houston Rockets on Friday.
“It felt good, it felt good,” Vucevic said following the Magic’s practice Thursday. “We’ll see how it feels the rest of the day [on Friday] and then we’ll go from there. Hopefully, I can go [Friday] and if not, I hope Sunday should be a realistic date for sure.”
Vucevic has missed the past 10 games after spraining his ankle on Nov. 20 in a loss against the Toronto Raptors. He was in the midst of his best stretch of the season prior to going down with the injury.
He was named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Nov. 18. He averaged 21.7 points, 14.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.33 blocks per game to help the Magic go 3-0 in home games against the 76ers, Spurs and Wizards. He had season highs in points (30) and rebounds (17) in the win over Washington.
Vucevic went through conditioning and shooting drills at the end of Thursday’s practice, which was a light workout following the 96-87 loss to the Lakers.
He said has yet to really test the ankle in a scrimmage.
“It was very frustrating for me
because I felt like I started really getting back to playing really well,” Vucevic said. “That’s part of it. It’s been three and a weeks or something like that. It is what it is. You just have to fight through it and come back healthy as soon as you can and get back on the court.”
The Magic and Rockets will face off at 7 p.m. Friday and the game will air on Fox Sports Network.
Orlando guard Markelle Fultz was not at practice on Thursday. Coach Steve Clifford said Fultz is feeling better after missing Wednesday’s game with a stomach virus.
“He’s still sick and he couldn’t come in and practice,” Clifford said.
“It’s going around, so we just have to be careful both for him and for everybody else.”
Fultz has played in 23 games this season and is averaging 12 points per game and 4.1 assists per game.
Clifford wants Magic to play smarter:
The Magic’s mental lapses frustrated Clifford during the team’s loss to the Lakers.
After scoring a season-low nine points in the first quarter, the Magic battled back. Orlando tied the game up 71 after Michael Carter-Williams hit a corner 3-pointer.
The Lakers then responded with an 8-0 run when LeBron James assisted all three baskets. The slow start hampered the Magic, and Clifford told the team they need to play smarter.
“Like I told the guys [Thursday morning], every team has their strengths. To me, we have positional size and we’re super smart and we weren’t smart [on Wednesday],” Clifford said.
“That can’t be OK with any of us. We’ve got to be the team that’s executing their sets, that executes their defenses, particularly in the fourth quarter. On nights that we have done it, we’ve given ourselves a good chance to win.”
The margin for error is smaller when playing against elite teams and players.
Houston boasts two of the top players in the league in James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Harden is coming off a 55-point effort in a 116-110 win over Cleveland on Wednesday.
Iwundu surprised he was ejected: Magic forward Wes Iwundu said Thursday he was surprised he was ejected from Wednesday’s game following a scuffle involving former Magic All-Star Dwight Howard.
Howard was fouled by Jonathan Issac, and then raised the ball above his head and walked between Issac and Mo Bamba. It escalated to a point where Iwudu shoved Howard and Iwundu and Lakers forward Jared Dudley were ejected.
“A little shocked, to be honest,” Iwundu said, “just because it was a little shoving and pushing. Things happen sometimes and those were the results.
Iwundu said it was the first time he had to finish watching a game from the locker room. He added he was standing up for his teammates and tried to provide them with energy down the stretch.
Center Nikola Vucevic, left, hopes to return from a sprained ankle Friday when the Magic face the Rockets at Amway Center.