Orlando Magic’s depth stretching thin as injuries mount

Orlando Magic forward-guard Evan Fournier (10) gets a help leaving the court after twisting his ankle during overtime play on Dec. 6, 2017 in Orlando. Fournier has an ankle sprain, MRI results show. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic forward-guard Evan Fournier (10) gets a help leaving the court after twisting his ankle during overtime play on Dec. 6, 2017 in Orlando. Fournier has an ankle sprain, MRI results show. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic suffered another injury as Aaron Gordon fell to a concussion. Their depth now is stretching thin and they have to find a way to step up.

38. 103. 73. Final. 89

The Orlando Magic spent the entire game searching for an elusive answer. How do you replace the production, scoring, playmaking and shooting ability of Evan Fournier?

It is not that Evan Fournier is some all-NBA player. He is not good enough at all those things the Magic need him to do to be effective. But he is what they have and he is effective in his own way.

Orlando was left searching for a way to replace his 18.3 points per game and 41.5 percent 3-point shooting. And it was not easy.

The Magic’s offense stagnated all night, unable to get free for good shots or space the floor. The Denver Nuggets packed the paint and the Orlando Magic tried too hard to drive into it and force some space.

In all, Orlando shot 39.8 percent from the floor and 5 for 21 (23.8 percent) from beyond the arc. The Magic posted a lowly 91.6 offensive rating. The Magic simply were not able to score.

And then the floor dropped out from them again. A hard task got even harder as Aaron Gordon collided with Gary Harris and lay on the floor motionless, trying to collect himself. His lip and mouth bloodied, Gordon got up slowly and played for a few minutes more.

Then he was done for the game and for the foreseeable future with a concussion. The Magic are now without Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. Their ranks are getting thinner and their incredibly small margin for error even smaller.

"“It’s definitely a challenge, but every team in the league loses some guys at some point during the season,” coach Frank Vogel said. “So we got to move the basketball. We got to execute and got to get good shots on the offensive end. And you got to be tied together on the defensive end.”"

The Magic were already up against it without Fournier. The team was thin on the wings and trying to find its rhythm all over again.

Vogel said the team was a bit impatient trying to attack and make things happen. There was a definite sense the Magic were forcing some play and try to make things happen when they were not there.

Fournier proved to be a big loss. There are few successful lineups the Magic have used this year that do not include Fournier. He does a lot of things to help make the offense go. And losing him, along with everyone else, was proving to be too much. Losing Gordon too — and his team-leading 18.5 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game — will make things even tougher.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The reaction to these losses was some variation of the team has to have players step up — a refrain the team said after losing Fournier in Wednesday’s game to a sprained ankle — and the team has to execute better.

And then came Gordon’s injury. Another important weapon lost.

The schedule nor the team’s opponents are going to feel sorry for the Magic. Orlando has to play with the roster they bring with them.

"“Things happen,” Jonathon Simmons said. “It’s the NBA. I’ve seen it happen for years. Players get hurt. Other guys have to step up.”"

There were little glimpses of hope. Vogel said he felt the players were trying and no one was playing the wrong way. The execution was just poor and shots refused to go down. Everyone seemed a bit hurried.

Orlando was searching for a lineup that would work — trying to balance their starters with their bench. The hope was something could click.

But the second unit especially struggled. The second quarter saw the Magic lose their 11-point lead with a second unit of Elfrid Payton, D.J. Augustin, Wesley Iwundu, Marreese Speights and Bismack Biyombo. That group went with a -47.6 net rating in six minutes.

In such a small sample size, it is hard to tell what is real and what is mere noise, but such a dramatic difference did not bode well for the team. The Nuggets’ bench took it to the Magic’s bench. Something that might have been expected considering the team’s general lack of depth.

Vogel was sent searching for some answers in the fourth quarter as his team lacked energy. Someone in that group is going to have to step up and take advantage of the minutes that have suddenly opened up. This is the opportunity they have been waiting for.

This whole Magic team will be searching for a solution for the time being.

"“That the way it is,” Nikola Vucevic said. “It’s not easy when you lose guys who are part of what we’re doing. It is what it is. It’s part of the job we do. People get injured and miss games. Every team goes through it. The next guy needs to find a way to step up and find a way to win games. We can’t take it as an excuse.”"

Nikola Vucevic said the lesson is that the team has to play together. No one can take it upon himself to try to win the game by themselves. They need each other more now to ensure they play and execute at a high level.

Vucevic said he felt the team had a little bit of that tonight. But they have to keep trusting what works for them. That is easier said than done. And obviously, the team is facing a talent deficit now. They are going to have to rely on players who previously were out of the rotation.

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Orlando was clearly trying to compensate too much for what they lost. They will have to fill those gaps and star players will have to do their part to step up.

But it will not be easy.

Injuries will continue to stretch the team thin. There is nothing to control that now — even if Jonathan Isaac returns or the Magic call up Jamel Artis and Adreian Payne.

The bottom line is the team still has to execute. The Magic still have the opportunity to win games. No matter who goes out there.

"“We got to play better,” Vogel said. “We got to execute. We’re going to play five guys on the floor, capable NBA players that are here for a reason. And we got to go out and execute offensively and defensively to get a ‘W.'”"

There will be a fair bit of personal responsibility to take on that task. All the games will still count the same regardless of who plays. The Magic have to respond to this adversity or else lose their season.

Even before the Gordon injury, the Magic were facing these struggles trying to make due without a key player. Orlando has a lot of work to do itself.

Next: Grades: Denver Nuggets 103, Orlando Magic 89

The team’s attention has to be full to survive this stretch with the injuries.