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Portland Trail Blazers at Orlando Magic Preview

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NBA: New York Knicks at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (14-13) at Orlando Magic (11-18)

Friday, December 15th - 4:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (questionable )
Magic injuries: Arron Afflalo (questionable), Evan Fournier (out), Jonathan Isaac (questionable), Aaron Gordon (questionable), Terrence Ross (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Orlando Pinstriped Post

Two days after coming back from down double-digits against the Miami Heat, the Portland Trail Blazers remain in the Sunshine State to take on the Orlando Magic in the first game of a back-to-back. While the Magic started the season strong, going 8-4 through their first 12 games, injuries and reality have taken their toll. Orlando has gone 3-14 over their last 17 games and will be hoping that Aaron Gordon and youngster Jonathan Isaac will be able to return to action tonight.

What to Watch For

  • Jusuf Nurkic’s possible return: Nurkic is officially upgraded to questionable for tonight’s game and, if he’s able to give it a go, faces a defensive challenge in guarding Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic is a big body who is able to step out and hit short jumpers, so Nurkic is going to need to be willing to roam out of his comfort zone a little bit, lest Vucevic catch fire against Portland again.
  • Points, points, points: Orlando is not a good defensive team. For all of his offensive prowess and size, Vucevic can be burned on the defensive end. Jonathon Simmons, DJ Augustin, the list of non-dedicated defenders goes on. The only well-reputed defender on the roster, Bismack Biyombo, is an offensive liability and only plays around 15 minutes a night. If the Blazers are hoping to break out of their offensive funk, this is the team to do it against.
  • Aaron Gordon: With Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross out, Orlando will be hoping that Gordon is good to go after suffering a concussion on December 8. After several years of being forced to split time at both forward positions, Gordon is now playing the stretch four almost exclusively, to stellar results—18.5 points, 8 boards, and 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

What They’re Saying

Spencer R. Henderson of Orlando Magic Daily writes that Magic coach Frank Vogel should experiment with a more defensively balanced starting lineup.

The Magic would like to be either a .500 basketball team or better by the end of December. To do so there may be some adjustments that need to be made in the starting lineup, aside from getting everyone healthy.

Those adjustments begin with tweaking the starting lineup in order to produce more defensive consistency. The current starting lineup — Elfrid Payton, Jonathon Simmons, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic posts a defensive rating of 120.0. Something is clearly not working.

Inserting defensive minded players like Bismack Biyombo and Jonathan Isaac into the lineup would help change the team’s outlook. Obviously, the team would not be able to fit all those pieces into the picture.

Putting Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton and Terrence Ross to the bench is not the most popular move. But Frank Vogel owes it to Aaron Gordon to explore every option that this roster has to offer. If they are going to lose games with this particular starting lineup, it might as well be something that is invested in the Magic’s future.

John Denton of NBA.com tells us why Aaron Gordon needs to be extra careful with his concussion.

This concussion – the one he suffered Friday following a face-first collision with the shoulder of a foe – is mild by comparison, Gordon stressed. That’s not Gordon being short-sighted or overly macho in trying to prove his toughness; it’s him speaking from experience and being able to gauge the severity of this concussion because of his past experiences.

Because his symptoms have been relatively mild, Gordon is extremely hopeful that he can continue to progress through the various stages of the NBA’s concussion protocol and be cleared by doctors to play for the short-handed Magic (11-17) on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

``I’m not new to concussions – I’ve been playing sports all my life. When you play contact or even non-contact (sports), sometimes you run into each other and you bump your head,’’ a sweaty Gordon said on Monday following a sprinting session. ``I’m not new to concussions and my brother (Drew) has been through five or six of them. I’ve been four or five of them. My sister (Elise) has been through some of them (as a basketball player) at Harvard, so I’m not new to them.

Denton also tells us at OrlandoMagic.com how Nikola Vucevic is doing his best to pick up the slack until his teammates get healthy

With the Magic playing without their top two scorers in Gordon (18.5 ppg.) and Fournier (18.3 ppg.), Vucevic did his best to pick up the slack and give his team a chance to win on Saturday in Atlanta. Not only did he score 31 points on an ultra-efficient 13-of-18 overall shooting and four-of-six accuracy from 3-point range, he handed out a career-best 10 assists and grabbed 13 rebounds. The assists are a product of the Magic putting the ball in Vucevic’s hands and trusting him to make the right play.

``The more times he touches the ball, the more good things that happen,’’ Vogel said recently of his big man. ``It’s kind of a general theme that we have that when things are getting stagnant, get the ball in (Vucevic’s) hands someway – in the post or at the top of the key in the dribble-hand-off game because he usually makes good things happen.’’