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Nikola Vucevic could return as soon as Friday, per Steve Clifford

The Magic’s All-Star center has been out since Nov. 20 with a sprained ankle

San Antonio Spurs v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Magic could soon have their All-Star back.

Steve Clifford told reporters on Wednesday that Nikola Vucevic, who will miss his 10th straight game when the Magic host the Lakers, could be back in the lineup for Friday’s game against the Rockets.

When Vucevic first suffered the sprained ankle while contesting a shot against the Raptors on Nov. 20, it had the look of a disastrous season-ending type of injury. Given Vucevic’s vital role in the Magic’s execution, it was a huge relief to learn that it was an ankle sprain. While the Magic never gave a specific timeframe for Vooch’s return, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Vucevic would miss a minimum of four to six weeks. If Vucevic is able to return against the Rockets, he will have been out for just over three weeks.

The Magic have managed to stay afloat without their All-Star center, thanks in large part to improved outside shooting and a stretch of games against teams that are hardly powerhouses. In nine games with Vucevic, the Magic have gone 5-4, with wins coming over the Cavs (twice), Warriors, Wizards and Suns (combined winning percentage of something awful).

Without Vucevic, the Magic have been more dependent on isolation plays than their preferred inside-out strategy. Still, their offensive rating without Vucevic has actually increased despite getting fewer open looks because of the defensive attention that Vucevic commands.

Vucevic’s absence was felt in particular against the Bucks on Monday, when Orlando was outrebounded 54-44 and allowed 16 second-chance points to a team you can’t afford to give second chances. The chart below compares key categories for the Magic with and without Vucevic...

Orlando Magic With Nikola Vucevic Without Nikola Vucevic
Record 6-8 5-4
Offensive Rating 103.3 105.6
Defensive Rating 104.1 105.2
Field Goal % 42.3 44.2
Three-point % 30.3 37.5
Effective FG % 47.7 50.5
Defensive Rebounding % 76.4 74.0
Opponent 2nd Chance Pts 11.5 13.0
Opponent Pts in Paint 44.3 47.8
Assist % 61.1 56.6

Vucevic’s potential return would come at a time when the Magic are in the midst of a very challenging stretch of their schedule.

Clifford also announced that Al-Farouq Aminu will not have surgery on the torn meniscus in his knee in hopes of returning sooner...