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Magic vs. Blazers preview: Al-Farouq Aminu appears set to return after lengthy absence

Aminu hasn’t played in a game since November of 2019

Orlando Magic v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

For the first time in a long time, Al-Farouq Aminu is not listed on the Orlando Magic’s injury report.

That means that Aminu, who hasn’t played since November of 2019 after suffering a knee injury, could be set for a return when the Magic play in Portland on Tuesday night. It would be a fitting return for Aminu, who spent four seasons with the Trail Blazers before signing with the Magic for three years and $30 million in the summer of 2019.

It would also be a welcome return for the Magic, who are in desperate need of some healthy bodies. Aminu’s stint with the Magic didn’t get off to a great start as he struggled offensively while trying to find a role in a crowded frontcourt, averaging what was a career-low 4.3 points while shooting a dismal 29% from the field in 21 minutes per over the 18 games he played in a Magic uniform. And that low percentage was with half of his field goal attempts coming from inside of 10 feet of the basket, with Aminu somehow shooting just 43.5% on shots ranging from zero to three feet from the rim.

After sustaining a torn meniscus on Nov. 29 of 2019, Aminu attempted to rehab without surgery before ultimately having a setback that necessitated a surgical procedure. His timetable for a return remained a mystery, and it was further delayed when Aminu had a follow-up surgery prior to the 2020-2021 season.

Add it all up and the calendar year has been flipped twice since Aminu last suited up. Even on what will likely be a prolonged minutes restriction, Aminu’s presence should benefit the Magic defensively, as it did in his small sample size with the Magic last season as the team allowed 100.1 points per 100 possessions while Aminu was on the court.

A team that now owns the sixth worst defensive rating in the NBA at 112.7 points per can use all the help it can get,.

“He’s a veteran player who has played a ton of minutes in this league, but you have to be realistic about what expectations are,” Steve Clifford recently told reporters. “He’s going to be rusty and it’s going to take him some time to get back into rhythm....I do think that no matter what, he can bring a physicality and a level of organization to our team that would help us a great deal right now.”

The shorthanded Magic, who are kicking off a very challenging four-game West Coast trip, have lost 13 of their last 16 games. Against the Blazers, they have lost seven straight, having not won a game in Portland since 2017. They may have to try to do it on Tuesday without Evan Fournier, who is listed as questionable due to back spasms.

The Blazers have injury problems of their own, most notably being the extended absences of C.J. McCollum, who was playing the best basketball of his career before suffering a fracture in his foot in January, and Jusuf Nurkic. Even shorthanded, they showed they can still beat anyone with their potent offense, defeating the East-leading Sixers on Thursday with McCollum AND Damian Lillard, who is averaging 29.1 points per game this season. Yet, when Lillard returned to face the Knicks on Saturday, the Blazers lost.

The Blazers enter with the league’s sixth best offensive rating at 114.0 points per and take more threes than any team in the league and make more per game than all but the Jazz while shooting 39% from deep as a team (seventh best). Lillard is hitting 38% of his 10.7 three-point attempts per game, and Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up nicely in McCollum’s absence, averaging 20.0 points per over his last seven games while connecting on 44.9% of his 9.9 three-point attempts per game during that stretch (43.6% on 7.0 attempts per game for the season).

Cole Anthony faces what will be arguably his toughest assignment to date while trying to contain Lillard. We also get to see if Mo Bamba’s previous performance (season-high 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks in 12 fourth-quarter minutes) buys him any additional or somewhat meaningful minutes against the Blazers. As logical as that sounds, it doesn’t sound likely based on Clifford’s comments...

I know they play different positions and the team has other needs, but I don’t want to live in a world where there are enough minutes in the Magic rotation for Gary Clark but not for Mo Bamba. Development is the biggest need of all right now for the Orlando Magic.

Who: Orlando Magic (9-15) at Portland Trail Blazers (12-10)

When: Tuesday at 10 p.m.

Where: Moda Center - Portland, Oregon

TV: Fox Sports Florida