Preview: Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon set to return as Magic host Knicks

BY The Sports Xchange • February 22, 2018

TV: FOX Sports Florida

TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.


The Orlando Magic are getting a dose of good news while the last three weeks have been nothing but bad news for the New York Knicks.

The Magic are expected to get Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic back from injuries Thursday when they host the Knicks, who are trying to stop an eight-game losing streak.

Gordon is returning after missing nine games because of a hip flexor injury after missing time earlier in the season because of a calf injury and a concussion.

Vucevic is coming back from missing nearly two months because of a broken bone in his left hand.

Orlando (18-39) went 4-5 in Gordon's absence with four defeats by single digits and a stirring comeback victory from 21 points down against Cleveland on Feb. 6.

The Magic are 5-13 in the 18 games Gordon has missed.

Gordon leads the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game. He is shooting 44.7 percent after shooting 32.8 percent in his last seven games following a 30-point showing against Cleveland on Jan. 6.

The Magic were 7-16 without Vucevic and most of the losses piled up early in his absence. The Magic dropped eight of the first nine games without him, but since Jan. 12, they are 6-8.

Vucevic is third on the team at 17.4 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 9.3. Before getting hurt, he was averaging 22.1 points and 13 rebounds in his previous eight games.

Instead of going on vacation during the All-Star break, Vucevic continued working out to improve his conditioning.

"I felt like it was much easier for me to stay here and get the work done in our gym with everything available," he told reporters following practice Monday.

"I did some work every day but (Monday), which was my day off. It was good for me to do some conditioning and shooting, so I'm in better shape and I'll use (the two practices) and then be back Thursday to play."

Without Gordon and Vucevic, Mario Hezonja received ample playing time. Hezonja averaged 16.8 points while playing 25 to 35 minutes in Gordon's absence.

Although Orlando headed into the All-Star break with a three-game losing streak following a 104-102 loss to Charlotte on Feb. 14, Hezonja scored at least 20 points for the third straight game.

"People step up and Mario is playing great and hopefully he can keep that up," Gordon told reporters.

Orlando beat the Knicks twice earlier this season when New York was at or above .500. The Knicks (23-36) are 12-25 since a 105-100 loss to the Magic in New York on Dec. 3 when Tim Hardaway Jr. injured his leg.

Since getting to 17-14 with a victory over the Boston Celtics on Dec. 21, the Knicks are 6-22. They enter Thursday on their sixth losing streak of at least eight games since the start of the 2013-14 season.

New York's skid continued when it blew a 27-point lead in a 118-113 home loss to the Washington Wizards on Feb. 14. Hardaway scored 32 of his 37 points in the first half, while Enes Kanter totaled 24 and 14 and Michael Beasley finished 16.

That trio will comprise New York's starting frontcourt since Kristaps Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee, though Beasley missed practice with a right ear infection and might sit out Thursday.

The starting backcourt will be different, with veteran Jarrett Jack going to the bench while the Knicks see how young guards Frank Ntilikina, Emanuel Mudiay, and Trey Burke perform with increased minutes.

"Just giving the young guys some more chances," New York coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters at practice Tuesday. "We might win with those guys. So, we'll throw them out there and they'll take their lumps probably at times, but you got to get through that, you got to battle through that, learn and build up the consistency."

Ntilikina averaged 5.2 points and 3.2 assists while playing 20.1 minutes in his first 56 NBA games, Burke is averaging 7.4 points on 54.1 percent shooting in 13 games since joining the Knicks last month, and Mudiay scored 29 points in his first three games after being acquired from Denver on Feb. 8.


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