Nikola Vucevic nearing return to full-contact practice

The Orlando Magic are close to getting back one of their better players. Nikola Vucevic is nearing a return to full-contact practice.

Nikola Vucevic knew something was wrong immediately Dec. 23 in Washington, D.C.

Otto Porter had reached in on him as he tried to post up Marcin Gortat, swiping his hand. The discomfort was apparent on Vucevic’s face almost immediately. He seemingly looked at his hand a few times before the Orlando Magic quickly called timeout and took him out of the game.

Vucevic fractured a bone in his left hand and it has knocked him out since that game. Going through one of the best stretches of play in his career, all his momentum was suddenly stopped.

Vucevic has been doing on-court work for some time now. He has been out of a cast and doing light shooting drills. But soon, it appears his ramp up to the court is going to increase.

Vucevic told John Denton of the Magic he is set to begin doing full-contact drills with assistant coaches sometime next week and could return to full practice soon after:

“I’m going to do a couple of drills where it’s controlled contact, I guess, where I’m doing stuff with [assistant coaches] Matt [Hill] and Corliss [Williamson] and playing with them and they will hit me and see how I react to that,” Vucevic told before Tuesday’s game against the Houston Rockets. “After a couple of days of that, I should be good to go for full contact with the team and all. That’s one of the biggest steps I need to clear for full contact.”

When Vucevic originally injured his hand, the prognosis was that he would miss 6-8 weeks after surgery. Six weeks would have him return this weekend — ironically when the Orlando Magic play the Washington Wizards at home. Vucevic is on track to return within the original timetable.

The only hurry to have Vucevic return would be to get him a game or two in before the February 8 trade deadline, in case anyone might want to trade for him now. It does not seem likely Vucevic will be back before then. A better bet would be to peg his return for after the All-Star Break.

Otherwise, there seems to be no rush to get Vucevic back on the court. The season is all but lost. And the Magic are playing more for ping pong balls than for Playoff positioning.

Vucevic has had a very nice season this year, averaging 17.4 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game. He is shooting 49.1 percent from the floor and 34.3 percent from beyond the arc in his first year taking 3-pointers regularly.

While Orlando has had a better defensive presence with Bismack Biyombo in the game, the Magic are a better defensive team statistically with Nikola Vucevic instead.

Orlando has missed Vucevic on the court. The team often plays through him and uses his passing ability to set others up. He is a big offensive threat too. The Magic’s offense is humming along now, but Vucevic would provide another nice boost.

The Magic will certainly welcome him back once he is healthy. And it is looking like he will return sooner than later.