Surgery is not planned at this time and Bamba’s return depends on how well he responds to rest, non-operative treatment and rehabilitation.
“Thankfully we caught this early and are able to treat Mo without surgery,” Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said in a news release. “His return to action will depend on how he responds to treatment.”
Bamba was in uniform but did not play in Saturday’s game against the Nets when he was a late scratch with what was called lower leg soreness at the time. He did not travel with the team to Oklahoma City for Tuesday’s game against the Thunder.
“It’s unfortunate,” Clifford said of the injury. “We just have to handle it the right way. There’s still plenty of things we can do to continue to help him learn what the NBA is all about. It won’t be as productive as if he were playing every night, but there’s plenty of ways around that so that he can continue to learn and grow.”
Clifford said he’ll try to use Bamba the same way he did Michael Kidd-Gilchrist while he was coaching in Charlotte. Clifford and his staff had Kidd-Gilchrist charting shots, meeting with coaches and offering input on player personnel while he recovered from shoulder injuries.
“It’s an experience that almost every guy’s going to have in the league,” Clifford said. “There are other ways he [Bamba] can be engaged. This isn’t going to be something where he’s just sitting. Learning the league, learning how it works, there’s always different ways where you can get better. He’ll be engaged. And he’s good. I think he understands.”
Bamba missed four games in January with a sore left foot he first injured during the Magic’s Jan. 7 loss to the Kings in Sacramento. He returned Jan. 18 against the Brooklyn Nets and finished with nine points and four rebounds in a little more than 15 minutes.
He played the next seven games before sitting out Saturday against the Nets. Clifford applauded the Magic training staff and team doctors, who he said kept the injury from getting worse.
“The doctors did a great job,” Clifford said. “You know, he just said he was sore and we’re fortunate that he came to them but also that they were able to catch it.”
Bamba, who was the Magic’s top pick in the 2018 NBA draft, is averaging 6.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and a team-best 1.36 blocks a game. He ranks fourth among NBA rookies in blocked shots.
A lengthy Bamba absence would mark the second straight season the Magic’s top draft pick missed significant time due to an injury. A foot injury limited Jonathan Isaac to 27 games last season after he was the team’s top pick in the 2017 draft.
With Bamba out, the backup minutes will fall to Khem Birch. He had four points, six rebounds and a blocked shot against the Nets. Birch has averaged 2.7 points and 2.6 rebounds and shot 51.2 percent from the field in his 21 games this season.
Magic center Nikola Vucevic has played in front of some boisterous crowds in his career, so stepping on the court in front of a raucous crowd — like at Chesapeake Energy Arena — doesn’t faze him. In fact, Vucevic said he doesn’t mind playing on the road.
He does, however, appreciate the atmosphere created by the Oklahoma City fans and said the energy they often create can provide a boost for even a visiting team.
“I enjoy playing in front of the home fans and the road fans, there’s something to take out of it from both,” he said Tuesday morning while sitting in the empty arena. “But it’s fun to play here because they do have great fans. It’s always sold out. They’re always behind their team. It’s always a fun atmosphere. We’ve had some close games here that were fun, and their fans really get behind them. You can, for sure, feed off of it.”
But Vucevic knows the Thunder faithful, or any NBA fans for that matter, won’t subject him to what he dealt with during his time playing a few games in Europe during the league lockout in 2011.
He had flares — yes, flares — thrown at him.
“That won’t happen here,” he said.
Simmons out again
Magic reserve forward Jonathon Simmons missed his third straight game with an abdominal injury.
Clifford said during Tuesday’s team shoot-around Simmons likely would not play against the Thunder. Simmons continues to deal with an oblique strain.
“He’s doing a lot of things, but it’s a tough area there and he still has a little discomfort. So I’d be surprised if he’s ready to play,” said Clifford.
On Twitter @osroyparry