Magic Confident They Have What It Takes To Make Deep Run This Season

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Five games into an exhibition season that ends tonight with a game against the rival Miami Heat, the Orlando Magic have used this preseason to confirm something that they felt prior to opening training camp: They have the kind of deep and talented team that has the potential to not only make the playoffs, but also could be a contender in the weeks, months and 82 regular-season games ahead.

Orlando (3-2) opened the preseason with three straight victories, but stumbled of late after playing without standouts Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross in ugly home losses to Boston and Philadelphia. But that has done little to dampen the confidence of a Magic team that headed into tonight’s preseason finale against the rival Heat (7 p.m., TV: Fox Sports Florida).

``I mean it’s without question that we can be a good team, but at the end of the day it’s on us,’’ said forward Jonathan Isaac, who worked throughout the summer and training camp with hopes of becoming a breakout threat for the Magic in his third NBA season. ``You know me, I don’t want to get into, `we’re this, we’re not this,’ but just want to keep our heads down, keep getting better and keep it all in perspective.’’

Orlando is hopeful that it can recapture the, ummm, magic that it had late last season when it went 22-9 down the stretch and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. The Magic brought back 12 players from that team and added point guard Markelle Fultz and veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the mix to fuel the beliefs that they can be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season. The Magic traded for Fultz – the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft – last February and assisted him in getting his once-troublesome right shoulder healthy, and they added the versatile Aminu in free agency back in July.

``We do a lot of great things here defensively, and that’s where you are going to end up winning or losing games most of the time,’’ said Aminu, referring to a Magic defense that had the NBA’s best defensive rating over the final 31 games of last season. ``Offensively, it comes and goes sometimes, but we have a defense that is long and agile. We’re still learning all of our spots, but it’s been a nice preseason so far and we’re going to continue to jell and get better.’’

Clifford wants to see the Magic play better tonight than they have in the previous two games when turnovers and offensive sloppiness were prevalent. A big reason for that, of course, was all-star center Nikola Vucevic and shooting guard Terrence Ross being out with ankle injuries and Evan Fournier missing time with back spasms. Clifford said that Vucevic and Ross are expected to play starter’s minutes tonight while Fournier (back) and Wes Iwundu (knee soreness) could play limited minutes if they are cleared prior to tipoff.

Regardless of who plays, Clifford wants to see the Magic executing and playing with a sense of urgency. The regular-season opener – Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Amway Center – is less than a week away.

``I just told guys, I want us to look more like the Magic,’’ Clifford said pointedly. ``I want us to look (like a team with) spirit, purposeful, energetic, which haven’t (had) for the last two games here and a lot of the game in Atlanta.’’

Clifford said he is happy that the Magic are ending the preseason against the Heat (3-0) because of their rugged style of play. Orlando won three of four regular-season meetings against the Heat last season and to maintain that dominance this season, it will have to play disciplined basketball, Clifford said.

``They don’t give possessions away,’’ he said. ``That’s my other thing that I just told our guys: As much as any team our league, (the Heat) are going to play defense on every trip and they have a purposeful offense every trip. They don’t give many possessions away, they’re hard to play against and that’s exactly what we need right now.’’

Ross, who became the first player in NBA history last season to make at least 200 3-pointers while never starting a game, feels the preseason has given the Magic a good indication of the kind of team they can be this season. Ross loves the fact that Orlando has the same front-office and coaching staff back and having 12 returning players has helped the team’s chemistry come along quicker than usual. Everything is in place, Ross said, for the Magic to be a contending team in the season ahead.

``We’ve had our ups and downs (in the preseason), but we’re in a really good place,’’ said Ross, who said he is fully healed from the ankle soreness that cost him one preseason game of playing time. ``We’re still figuring some things out, and getting some things tightened up, but we feel we can be a good team.’’

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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