ON SOLID FOOT­ING

Magic center Nikola Vuce­vic ap­plauds train­ing staff, plan for re­cov­ery from an­kle in­jury

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEDNESDAY - By Roy Parry

SALT LAKE CITY — The Magic at Jazz game was not com­pleted in time for this edi­tion. Read the late game story in our e-edi­tion at Or­lan­doSen­tinel.com/late or on our web­site.

Or­lando Magic start­ing center Nikola Vuce­vic was pleas­antly sur­prised with how good he felt af­ter his first game back from an an­kle in­jury that side­lined him for 11 games.

Now he’s ready to build on it. Vuce­vic fin­ished with 20 points and nine re­bounds and played 29 min­utes dur­ing Sun­day’s 130-119 win over the Pel­i­cans in New Orleans.

The Magic went into the game with a plan to keep Vuce­vic un­der the min­utes thresh­old he had prior to his in­jury but planned to give him “sig­nif­i­cant” play­ing time.

Team train­ers and per­for­mance staff mon­i­tored Vuce­vic closely, but it turned out they had lit­tle about which to worry.

Vuce­vic was happy to be back but hap­pier the Magic picked up a vic­tory in his re­turn.

“I felt good with where I was,” Vuce­vic said. “We put to­gether a good game as a team and got a good win, so it was a good, pos­i­tive come­back. Hope­fully we can carry it over to [Tues­day against the Jazz].”

Vuce­vic was in­jured Nov. 20 against the Rap­tors in Toronto, and the Magic went 5-6 dur­ing his ab­sence.

For his part, Vuce­vic set his sights on a two-week re­cov­ery win­dow and went to work.

“I knew it was go­ing to be at least two weeks,” he said. “That’s what the plan was. I was able to do a lot of work.”

That work in­cluded a lot of

con­di­tion­ing, mostly be­cause early in his re­cov­ery Vuce­vic couldn’t make cuts. In­stead, he fo­cused on run­ning in a straight line and rid­ing a sta­tion­ary bike to main­tain his en­durance level.

“Any­thing that could re­ally get my heart rate up to kind of make [it] eas­ier for me once I got to my con­di­tion­ing,” he said.

Vuce­vic cred­its per­for­mance and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion coach Nathan Spencer and phys­i­cal ther­a­pist Lind­say Win­ninger for help­ing him get back on the floor as quickly as he did.

“We had a good plan and I was able to come back, and [I’m] good to go,” Vuce­vic said.

Bamba avail­able for back-to­back set: For the sec­ond time this month, Magic center Mo Bamba will be avail­able for both games of a back-to-back set.

Coach Steve Clif­ford said af­ter Tues­day’s morn­ing shootaroun­d that Bamba had been cleared for the team’s back-to-back games Tues­day against the Jazz and Wednesday against the Nuggets.

Bamba’s avail­abil­ity, how­ever, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean he will con­tinue to play in back-to-back con­tests. Clif­ford said Bamba will be eval­u­ated more on a case-by­case ba­sis when it comes to backto-back games. Bamba con­tin­ues to un­dergo MRI ex­ams on his leg, ac­cord­ing to Clif­ford.

“It’s just de­pend­ing on what they see and how he feels,” Clif­ford said.

The team had de­cided early in the sea­son to hold Bamba out of one game of a back-to-back set to help him man­age sore­ness in the left leg he in­jured last sea­son.

With Vuce­vic out, Bamba played both games of the most re­cent back-to-back set on Dec. 3 and 4 against the Wizards and the Suns.

RICK BOWMER/AP

Magic for­ward Aaron Gor­don re­leases a shot as Jazz center Rudy Gobert de­fends in the first half of Tues­day night’s game in Salt Lake City.

RICK BOWMER/AP

Jazz center Rudy Gobert goes to the bas­ket as Magic center Nikola Vuce­vic de­fends Tues­day night in Salt Lake City.

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