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Five injuries that may have changed the trajectory of Magic history

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Dallas Mavericks v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Orlando Magic were dealt a huge blow in Wednesday night’s 105-94 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Early in the contest, guard Markelle Fultz went down in the lane, holding his left knee. Following the contest, it was learned that Fultz suffered a torn ACL and would miss the remainder of the season.

Fultz entered Wednesday’s contest averaging better than 14 points and six assists – both career-highs. Fultz joins forward Jonathan Isaac as key pieces to the Magic’s future now sidelined with torn ACL injuries. Unfortunately for Orlando, injuries to key players have been too common over the years.

Here’s a look back on five key injuries that may have significantly changed the Magic franchise:

Horace Grant’s Elbow (1996)

Not many people believe that anyone would have defeated the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls that finished 72-10. A healthy Orlando however, might have stood a puncher’s chance in the Eastern Conference Finals if healthy. The biggest blow was the loss of starting power forward Horace Grant.

A former All-Star with the Bulls, Grant was an exceptional rebounder and defender. In the year prior against Chicago in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Grant averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 65% from the field as the Magic won the series in six games. Grant’s performance was a big reason why the Bulls acquired Dennis Rodman in the offseason.

Grant would injure his elbow in Game 1 after running into teammate Shaquille O’Neal. The Magic held fourth-quarter leads in Games 2 and 4, but were unable to hold on as they went on to get swept by Chicago. In Grant’s absence, Rodman averaged 12.5 points and nearly 16 rebounds during the series.

Anfernee Hardaway’s Knee (1997)

Acquired in a trade on draft night from the Golden State Warriors, Anfernee Hardaway remains one of the greatest players in Orlando Magic history. A devastating knee injury in 1997 however, changed the trajectory of his career and perhaps his time with Orlando forever.

Hardaway missed 23 games during the 1996-97 season, but had a strong postseason for Orlando as the Magic pushed the second-seeded Miami Heat to a decisive fifth game in the first round. The early-season knee injury the following yearhowever, forced Hardaway to have arthroscopic knee surgery and he was never quite the same.

Hardaway was voted in as an All-Star starter and played in the All-Star Game, but appeared in just 19 total games for the Magic during the 1997-98 season. Hardaway returned the following season to play in all 50 games during a lockout-shorted campaign, but averaged a career-low 15.8 points and shot 42% from the field – his worst mark in any season with Orlando where he played in at least 20 games.

Hardaway averaged 19 points per game during the playoffs that year, but shot just 35% from the field as the third-seeded Magic were upset by the Philadelphia 76ers in four games. Hardaway was dealt to the Phoenix Suns the following season where he averaged nearly 17 points on 47% shooting in 60 games. Hardaway would miss 100 games over his first two seasons in Phoenix and never averaged more than 12 points per contest for the rest of his career.

Grant Hill’s Ankle (2000-04)

When the Orlando Magic signed Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady after going 41-41 during the “Heart and Hustle” 1999-2000 season, they looked to be contenders in a relatively weak post-Michael Jordan Eastern Conference for years to come. Unfortunately for Orlando, Hill’s ankle kept him from ever playing to his full potential.

While McGrady emerged as one of the NBA’s premier scorers during his time with Orlando, Hill missed 281 of a possible 328 games over his first four seasons with the Magic. Orlando made the playoffs three times during that stretch, but Hill never played in a playoff game and the Magic never got past the first round.

With McGrady shipped to Houston, Hill did play in 67 games during the 2004-05 season for the Magic and was named an All-Star. Hill missed 61 games the following season, but played in 65 games in his final season with Orlando – the 2006-07 season – as the Magic made their first playoff appearance in four years. Hill averaged 15 points in the playoffs as Orlando was swept in four games by Hill’s former team, the Detroit Pistons.

Jameer Nelson’s Labrum (2009)

Jameer Nelson is one of two Orlando point guards ever to be selected to an All-Star team, but unfortunately for Nelson, he was unable to play in that All-Star Game. Just over a week before the All-Star break during the 2008-09 season, Nelson went down with a shoulder injury in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks. To that point in the season, Nelson was averaging nearly 17 points and 5.4 assists while shooting better than 50% from the field.

The Magic would find a capable replacement in Rafer Alston via trade and still managed to reach the NBA Finals. Nelson returned for the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, but never quite returned to form. In a limited capacity, Nelson averaged less than four points per game and shot just 8-for-23 from the field as Orlando went down in five games.

Dwight Howard’s Back (2012)

The relationship between the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard was already strained during the superstar center’s final season in Orlando, but for much of the season, the Magic were in the hunt for a high playoff seed and looked very much like a contender in the Eastern Conference. With less than a month to play in the regular season, Howard was sidelined with a back injury and Orlando’s prospects as a contender went down with him.

The Magic were as many as 14 games over .500 in March, but went just 5-7 without Howard. After being third in the East for much of the season, Orlando had to settle for the No. 6 seed. The Magic would go on to lose to the Indiana Pacers in the first round in five games. Howard never again played a game in an Orlando uniform as he was dealt to the Lakers in the offseason.