Although There Are Fewer of Them This Year, Magic's Back-to-Backs Appear Challenging

by John Denton

ORLANDO – If the Orlando Magic are going to repeat the feat of 2019 and reach the playoffs once again in 2020, they are likely going to need every ounce of firepower and depth on their roster to avoid plenty of potential pitfalls on their upcoming schedule.

Sure enough, when the NBA released its schedule for the 2019-20 season, it showed every team playing 82 games – 41 of them at home and 41 as the road team. But with a closer look at the many dynamics that go into the league’s 82-game marathon, it shows that clearly not all schedules are equal.

The good news for the Magic is this: They are tied with six other teams for the fewest back-to-backs in the NBA this season with 11 – the lowest number in the last 19 years of the franchise. The bad news, however, is that the Magic will be in a highly challenging predicament on the second night of most of those 11 back-to-backs.

None of that news, however, was about to damper the excitement of Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, who is eager to get his third season in the NBA started as soon as possible. After seeing the Magic go 22-9 down the stretch last season to push into the playoffs, Isaac said the Magic must demand more of themselves this time around. He thinks the team has the capability to win at an even higher level than 2018-19 when the Magic went 42-40.

``We’re all excited about (the season) starting. T-Ross posted the other day on Instagram about how he can’t wait for the season to get here and I’m the same way. I’m hyped about it, too,’’ said Isaac, who recently shined while competing for USA Basketball’s Select Team in Las Vegas. ``I was hyped about getting done with Vegas (and his USA Basketball commitments) because it’s a telling sign that the season is coming. The summer has been great, productive and fun, but we’re excited about this Magic season and the guys that we have back on the team together.’’

But, again, things won’t be easy for the Magic because of the balance of power in the Eastern Conference and the many challenges that their schedule is about to throw at them.

On 10 instances this season, the Magic will be tasked with playing on the second night of a back-to-back while their foe will have either have a full day – and sometimes even multiple days – of rest. In six of those 10 instances, the opposing team will have been off for two days prior to taking on a Magic squad competing on the second night of a back-to-back (often with city-to-city travel thrown into the mix as well).

To show the inequity that sometimes occurs in the NBA’s scheduling process, the Magic will have just five instances where they will be playing a team on the second night of a back-to-back after having a night of rest for themselves. Not once all season will the Magic have two days off prior to facing a team on the second night of a back-to-back.

According to the sports analytical site PositiveResidual.com, Orlando’s 10 games where it will be at a ``true rest disadvantage’’ – a scenario where it will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back while the foe will have one-or-more days of rest – is tied for the fourth-most in the NBA. To put the Magic’s 10 games at a ``true rest disadvantage’’ into perspective, the Chicago Bulls will play a league-low five such games this season.

Toronto, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Memphis, Memphis, Houston and Brooklyn will play eight times while at a ``true rest disadvantage,’’ while Utah, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Indiana and Charlotte will have nine ``true rest disadvantage’’ games. Miami, the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio and New York are in the same predicament as the Magic in terms of being at a major rest disadvantage 10 times. Phoenix and Cleveland, two rebuilding squads expected to miss the playoffs once again this season, are tied for the most games at a ``true rest disadvantage’’ with 13.

Fresh off a stirring run to the playoffs this past spring, a Magic franchise that retained the bulk of its team over the summer will open training camp on Oct. 1 at the Amway Center. Orlando plays road preseason games in San Antonio (Oct. 5), Detroit (Oct. 7) and Atlanta (Oct. 9) and home preseason games against Boston (Oct. 11), Philadelphia (Oct. 13) and Miami (Oct. 17).

Out to secure another playoff berth and potentially home-court advantage in the first round, the Magic open the 2019-20 regular season on Oct. 23 against Cleveland. It’s the fifth consecutive year that the Magic will open the regular season at the Amway Center and the first time since 2015 that it will be against someone other than rival Miami.

Following the opener at home, the Magic will hit the road playing their second and third games of the season in Atlanta (Oct. 26) and Toronto (Oct. 28). Those trips start the team’s zig-zag path across the country for games over the next seven months. Again, according to PositiveResidual.com, the Magic will travel 45,404 miles this season – good for the 11th fewest in the NBA. To put that into perspective, fellow Sunshine State rival Miami will travel the 11th most miles among NBA teams at 49,766.

Not long after that comes the challenges regarding back-to-backs for the Magic. On Nov. 1 and 2 the Magic will play an incredibly daunting back-to-back at the Amway Center with games against championship contenders Milwaukee and Denver. The Nuggets play in New Orleans on Halloween Night and will be in Orlando resting on Nov. 1 as the Magic take the on reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

When the Magic play in Dallas on Nov. 6, they will have been in action the night before in Oklahoma City, while the Mavericks will have been off for two days (Nov. 4thand 5th). Orlando will also face major rest disadvantages five other times this season where it is playing on the second night of a back-to-back and the opponent will have been off at least two days. Games on these dates certainly have the potential to be major trouble spots for Orlando: Dec. 18 at Denver (off Dec. 16 and 17 while Magic play in Utah on Dec. 17); Jan. 27 at Miami (off Jan. 25 and 26 while Magic host Clippers on Jan. 26); Feb. 6 at New York (off Feb. 4 and 5 while Magic play in Boston on Feb. 5); Feb. 29 at San Antonio (off Feb. 27 and 28 while Magic host Minnesota on Feb. 28); and April 11 at Indiana (off Feb. 9 and 10 while Magic play in Boston on April 10).

This past season, Orlando was an admirable 16-12 in 14 back-to-back sets of games. It went 10-4 on the first night of games and 6-8 on the second nights.

Orlando is hoping to have enough firepower to weather the challenges of back-to-backs this season after re-signing free agents Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross and Khem Birch and signing defensive ace Al-Farouq Aminu away from the Portland Trail Blazers. Those players join a solid core of veterans Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin and promising youngsters Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz, Wes Iwundu and Isaac. Isaac said the Magic are hungry to do more this season than they did last spring when they reached the playoffs and even won Game 1 against the eventual champion Toronto Raptors.

``That’s what it’s all about – wanting more,’’ said Isaac, who was at Disney Springs on Monday for the grand opening of the NBA Experience. ``Getting a little taste of what (winning) does to the city, winning games, winning tough games and getting to the playoffs – that just gives us more incentive to go back and do it again. So, we’re hyped up for the season. And I’m sure as guys get together and start playing again, we’ll have more of those talks about, `Hey, we can go even farther than we did last (season).’’

The Magic play three of their first four games against non-playoff teams from last season and the other, Toronto, lost superstar forward Kawhi Leonard in free agency in July.

On an even bigger scale, nine of the first 13 games of the regular season will be played at the Amway Center. Orlando won its last nine games at home last season and went 25-16 at the Amway Center. Their hope is that they can use the early spree of home games to rack up wins and offset some of the challenges presented by the schedule that will come later on.

Like many of his teammates, Gordon can hardly wait to start a season that he thinks will be a special one for the Magic.

``There’s nothing better in the world for me than the NBA season,’’ Gordon said. ``I know everybody on the team is excited to get started and having the same (head) coach (Steve Clifford) again is going to be huge. Knowing that we have somebody that we can rely on and trust and buy into his system, that should lead us to another great year.

``Wanting more can be our only mindset,’’ Gordon added. ``Last year, we went into training camp not really knowing what to expect, and because of that we didn’t really have that confidence of buying in early on. Now, we know that we can win and it’s just about playing at a high level with Orlando Magic basketball night in and night out so that we can show people what we can do.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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