The Orlando Magic sure were glad to see center Nikola Vucevic return from an 11-game absence.
Orlando broke a three-game slide and achieved a season-high point total with Vucevic back on the floor Sunday.
The Magic look to put together a second straight strong outing on Tuesday when they visit the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.
Vucevic, an All-Star last season, was sidelined due to a sprained right ankle. He was sharp from the outset on Sunday and recorded 20 points and nine rebounds as the Magic rolled to a 130-119 road win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“It felt great and I’m really happy to be back after 11 games and like three weeks, and we got a win, so that made the comeback better,” Vucevic said. “I felt good, my wind was pretty good, and I was in a pretty good rhythm. Usually, in the first game back you’re going to feel pretty good because you are fresh and all, but I was happy with where I was.”
Vucevic recorded seven consecutive double-doubles prior to being injured against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 20. He is averaging 17.3 points and 11.4 rebounds.
The ninth-year pro was one of a franchise-record-tying eight players to score in double digits against the Pelicans. Orlando also recorded a season best by making 17 3-pointers.
“Vooch just creates space out there, he passes the ball really well and he commands the respect of the defense and that helps our offense,” swingman Terrence Ross, who made four 3-pointers, told reporters. “So it’s just easier for us to move up and down the court with him in there.”
Forward Jonathan Isaac led the Magic with 21 points and 11 rebounds and backup point guard D.J. Augustin contributed 17 points and eight assists.
Orlando will run into a hot player on Tuesday as Utah forward Bojan Bogdanovic is coming off a 32-point effort in Friday’s 114-106 home win over the Golden State Warriors.
Bogdanovic made eight 3-pointers to match his career high and equal the franchise record. The other Jazz players to make eight in a contest are Jeff Hornacek, Randy Foye and Rodney Hood.
Bogdanovic’s stellar performance came after he was just 13-of-44 shooting — including 7 of 21 from 3-point range — over the previous three games.
“He kept shooting,” Utah coach Quin Snyder told reporters. “Anytime someone can shoot, they just need to keep doing it. Try to take good ones. I thought we found him opportunistically. And he’ll make them.”
Shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, who scored 28 points for his fifth straight 20-point effort, was glad to see Bogdanovic rediscover his shooting stroke.
“He’s a big part of our offense. He’s confident shooting the ball,” Mitchell told reporters of Bogdanovic. “I told him he could go 1-for-27 and no one cares. Just shoot, shoot, shoot.”
The Jazz are hoping to have point back Mike Conley back on Tuesday. He has missed the past five games with a hamstring injury.
Conley participated in Sunday’s practice and he indicated he can feel the improvement. But the 12-year veteran is aware he needs the team’s training staff to approve of his progress.
“Everybody is saying be patient, be patient, don’t push it,” Conley told reporters. “It’s been tough. You just have to trust the training staff and the team. They’re doing what’s right for you. I even had the conversation before the season that they’re going to have to save me from myself sometimes because I’ll play through anything.”
Utah has enjoyed a lot of recent success against the Magic by winning 13 of the past 17 meetings. The Jazz have also won eight of the last 11 in Salt Lake City.
–Field Level Media