Magic

Can Orlando Make Some Magic Happen in the Bubble?

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As NBA basketball returns this weekend, 22 fanbases hope their teams are playing their best basketball. If an organization wants to hoist the trophy, it will take a new level of focus not only to follow NBA protocols but also re-gel as the intensity ramps up. How might this challenge benefit one of the more overlooked teams competing, the Orlando Magic? Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the “hometown” team.

Where Orlando Currently Stands

The Magic went into quarantine with a 30-35 record (good for the 8th seed) and a season full of streakiness. Orlando suffered losing streaks of at least three games seven times, including a five-game losing streak in late January. Despite this, however, the team battled their way to a playoff spot in an Eastern Conference that hasn’t been very deep with talent in recent years.

Winning eight of their last twelve games, this Magic team got hot late before and will try to do it again on their “home court.” The squad sits just a half-game behind the 7th seeded Brooklyn Nets, who they will face in their first game back this Friday. The only team that can knock the Magic out of the playoffs are the Washington Wizards, who need to make up 1.5 games and win back-to-back play-in games. Orlando’s eight-game schedule looks like this:

The Young Core

This front office has put together one of the better young cores in the league. They’ve built a team with the potential to be competitive for years. One of the most significant surprises of this season has been the resurgence of point guard Markelle Fultz, who the Magic acquired last season from Philadelphia. Fultz took the starting job from DJ Augustin in November and ran with it, posting 12 points and five assists while playing excellent defense. Mo Bamba doesn’t look like he’ll crack the starting lineup anytime soon, but he has been effective in limited minutes off the bench. Bamba has shown flashes of his potential with his shooting and shot-blocking but needs more experience to put it all together as a starter.

Jonathan Isaac went down with a knee injury on New Year’s Day but had a strong return to action in Monday’s final scrimmage. This news is essential for arguably the Magic’s most impactful young player. Before the shutdown, Isaac averaged 12 points, seven boards, and played legitimate First-Team All NBA level defense at 22 years old.

Lastly, the man who was robbed not once, but twice in the dunk contest; Aaron Gordon. AG is still only 24 years old and is slowly improving as a two-way player. Gordon has worked on his shooting, and if he can find consistency from outside, he will be dangerous. This moment is crucial for Gordon, as he should be entering his prime years. This big four will be interesting to watch as they gain more experience.

The Veterans

One fact that should benefit the Magic is they retained their entire team from a year ago. This squad got a problematic draw last year, losing in five games to the eventual NBA-champion Toronto Raptors.

Last year’s All-Star center Nikola Vucevic leads Orlando. He is a gifted offensive player that can score at all three levels. Vucevic put up almost 20 points and 11 rebounds per game this season, a small decline partially due to the young guys’ development. His longtime teammate Evan Fournier, who has been a pretty reliable 18 points per game, starts alongside him. These two are offensive focal points for a defensive-minded team that provide some leadership to the young core.

Off the bench is perhaps one of the most exciting players on the team, “The Human Torch” Terrence Ross. Ross had a rough start to the season but is a very gifted scorer who can heat up instantly. These three players will be vital in helping get the Magic over the hump come playoff time. Augustin and newly-acquired James Ennis will play critical bench roles during the bubble.

Getting Hot at the Right Time

Like I mentioned, this pandemic came at a terrible time basketball-wise. The Magic had won eight of their last twelve and their last three overall (all road games). Orlando’s last two games were big-time road wins over the Rockets and Grizzlies. The momentum set up for a second consecutive red-hot end of the regular season. It’ll be very significant if they can ride that momentum and play well in these eight games.

Most teams are trying to re-gel but only have limited time. As a squad used to playing together, Orlando just needs to find its stride again. Getting Isaac back will be a satisfying lift, but he will not put this team over the top. A lot of contingencies need to go right, like Ross shooting well, Vucevic and Fournier continuing their production, and the young guns stepping up.

If this success happens, fans may be in for a surprise with a team that ran into the NBA Champions last season. We’ll get a real glimpse of what Orlando has in the coming weeks. Is a playoff run in the cards? It can happen, but I’m still hoping we can dodge Milwaukee in the first round. All we know is anything can happen in the bubble, as this year has shown that anything can happen.

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