The Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic began their seasons by getting off to promising starts.
Since the early optimism, both teams have dealt with long losing streaks and are coping with injuries to derail some of their early success.
The Clippers will be looking for their third straight win Wednesday night while the Magic are trying to avoid a third straight loss when the teams get together in Orlando.
Los Angeles won its first four games and five of its first seven contests. Starting with a 113-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 4, Los Angeles has since gone 5-13.
The loss to Memphis triggered a nine-game losing streak that lasted through Nov. 20. The Clippers won three straight by beating Atlanta, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers but then dropped their next four before getting a one-point win against Washington last Saturday and a 96-91 win over Toronto on Monday night.
“We talked about it at halftime that (playing hard) had got to be one of our talents right now,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said. “Teams have so much talent, but even with all our guys out, you can’t account for a team that’s going to play hard, and I thought that’s what we did all game.”
The four-game skid coincided with Blake Griffin spraining the MCL in his left knee and since the injury, three different players have started two games apiece at power forward and combining on 60 points in those absences. Montrezl Harrell started the first two games there. Jamil Wilson started Monday after Danilo Gallinari was lost to a second occurrence of the glute injury that sidelined him for 13 games from Nov. 7-Dec. 3.
Gallinari scored 25 points Saturday but also injured himself in a fall and the Clippers went back to Wilson at starting power forward. Wilson did not score Monday while Harrell produced 17 points.
Wilson is expected to start again while Gallinari sits out.
“It’s been this kind of season thus far,” Rivers said. “But things can change. And they are. They keep changing back to somebody getting hurt.”
So far, the Clippers have lost a combined 88 man-games due to various injuries.
Despite the injuries, Austin Rivers, DeAndre Jordan, and Lou Williams have appeared in every game and the trio played prominent roles in Monday’s win.
Jordan totaled 14 and 17 rebounds for his 15th double-double, Williams scored 17 while Rivers contributed 15. Williams is averaging 25.4 points in his last seven games while Rivers is averaging 19.5 in his last seven.
Orlando began with six wins in its first eight games and held an 8-4 record after a 16-point win at Phoenix on Nov. 10. The Magic began a nine-game losing streak the next night in Denver and have lost 13 of their last 16 games.
Orlando stopped its losing streak Nov. 29 with a home win against Oklahoma City but followed up an overtime win vs. Atlanta last Wednesday by getting swept in a back-to-back set against Denver and Atlanta.
The Magic played both games without Evan Fournier, who sprained his ankle in overtime last Wednesday. Fournier is Orlando’s second-best scorer at 18.3 points, which is his career-high.
Fournier is expected to miss his third straight game and his replacement Arron Afflalo could also miss the game. Afflalo played about 25 minutes in his first two starts but is questionable with back spasms.
Besides Fournier, the Magic may be without leading scorer Aaron Gordon. Gordon remains in the concussion protocol, is questionable and coach Frank Vogel said his status would not be determined until near tip-off.
Gordon sustained his concussion in Friday’s loss to Denver when his face collided with the shoulder of a defender. Gordon said Monday that he is not showing any symptoms and feels good.
“You always want to be cautious, especially if it is something to your head,” Gordon told reporters after practice Monday. “Concussions are dangerous and anything with the brain, but I feel better and I’m going through the protocol. I’ll see if I can get back, but there’s no rush.”
Without Gordon on Saturday, the Magic started Mario Hezonja. Hezonja played 31-plus minutes and finished with seven points and six rebounds while Wes Iwundu played 26 minutes.
Those aren’t even the only injuries for Orlando, which spent Monday’s practice emphasizing its defense after allowing Denver to shoot 49 percent and Atlanta to make 51 percent of its shots.
Rookie Jonathan Isaac will miss his 16th straight game with a sprained right ankle while Terrence Ross will miss his seventh consecutive contest with a sprained right MCL and a non-displaced fracture of right tibial in his knee.
“It’s disappointing,” said center Nikola Vucevic, who scored 31 points Saturday. “Obviously we had a very tough stretch this past month. But I thought the guys that did practice did good work. Frank did some of the drills that we needed to work on.”
Now the Magic will see if their depleted roster can end a seven-game losing streak to the Clippers.
Last season, Rivers scored 25 while Jordan totaled 22 and 13 rebounds in a 113-108 win at Orlando on Dec. 14. On Jan. 11 in Los Angeles, Jordan grabbed 20 rebounds in a 105-96 win.