Magic Have Competitive and Intense Second Day of Practice

Practice included full-contact, three-on-three scrimmage sessions
by John Denton

ORLANDO - To try and make life more manageable and curb the monotony of living in a sequestered, campus-style environment at Disney World, Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross received a personalized care package filled with goodies from his wife and two kids on Thursday night.

To try and make practices more productive, interesting and fresh to players who will be going through almost daily drills for the next three weeks until games that matter begin, Magic head coach Steve Clifford has already ramped up the competitive nature of those sessions.

On Friday, the Magic practiced for the second time at nearby Disney and this biggest difference was the intense, competitive nature of the drills and scrimmaging. Following a first day of mostly light drill and skill work on Thursday, the Magic raised their level of intensity on Friday with full-contact, three-on-three scrimmage sessions. The goal is to ramp things up to the point where they ultimately can scrimmage five-on-five in full-court sessions while also being cognizant of injuries that could crop up following a four-month layoff after the NBA season was shuttered in early March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clifford’s answer to keeping things fresh, interesting and productive for the players: Make every minute competitive.

``Making it as competitive as possible … making sure every shooting drill is competitive, every drill we try to do is as competitive as we can (get it) and, everything we do – where it’s not organizational – is to a score and there’s a winner and a loser,’’ Clifford said following Friday’s session via a Zoom call with the media. ``Look, these guys are the best players in the world and they’re here for a reason, and their competitive spirit is one of those reasons, and we want to take advantage of that.’’

Ross, one of Orlando’s most lethal offensive weapons with his ability to pile up points in bunches, feels the Magic were able to hit the ground running for the practice sessions because of the collective conditioning of the group. Most of the Magic’s players remained in Orlando throughout the time off from NBA basketball, and most of them were daily regulars at the Amway Center practice courts as soon as players were cleared to return to NBA facilities for workouts.

Ross, who averaged 14.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 63 games this season while making 162 3-pointers, is hopeful that the Magic’s work during the pandemic scare will help the squad stay injury free and quickly regain the chemistry that it had found back in early March. At the time of the NBA’s shutdown on March 11, Orlando had won three games in a row, six of nine and eight of 12.

``Personally, I think we look good,’’ Ross said. ``We’re a lot more conditioned than I thought we’d be. (Friday) was the first day with live contact and I think a lot of guys are starting to get the rhythm back, including me. I think we’re starting to get the rhythm back and shooting the ball well again. As long as we stay with what we’re doing, I think we’ll be fine.’’

Clifford said the Magic had the same group of players available for Friday’s practice as they did for Thursday, meaning that point guard Markelle Fultz (excused absence for a personal matter) and an unspecified player (positive COVID-19 test) have yet to rejoin the squad. Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said earlier in the week that there is an expectation that both players will soon rejoin the squad at Disney. However, once the players do rejoin the squad, they will be required by NBA rules to be quarantined in their hotel rooms for 48 hours before being allowed to return to the practice floor.

Magic players, who are tested daily for the coronavirus, will have another week-and-a-half of almost daily workouts prior to beginning a set of three exhibition games. Orlando will face the top three teams in the Western Conference, record-wise – the Los Angeles Clippers (July 22, 3 p.m.), Los Angeles Lakers (July 27, noon) and the Denver Nuggets (July 27, noon) – to prepare themselves for the eight ``seeding games’’ that will count in the regular-season standings. The three scrimmages and eight ``seeding games’’ will all be televised in Central Florida on Fox Sports Florida.

The traditional, four-round, best-of-seven playoffs begin Aug. 17, and the Magic have plenty of work to get done before then while also being plenty cautious, Clifford stressed.

``The biggest challenge is the pace with which we move forward,’’ Clifford said. ``We have to help guys get into rhythm individually, get organized as a group and we have to help guys stay injury-free.

``It’s unlike anything than I’ve ever been through before because this is much different than a training camp where you’ve had all of September where they’ve already played a ton of five-on-five and they’ve worked out all summer,’’ added Clifford, a 20-year veteran of working at the NBA level. ``This is much different than that. You have to go at a pace where we’ll be ready to play because those eight (seeding) games are, obviously, critical in 2 ½ weeks. But you also have to go at a pace where you can be as careful as you can be to prevent injuries. That’s what we’re trying to do and we’re relying a lot on (Magic High Performance Director) David Tenney. We did a lot (on Friday), we’ll do more (on Saturday) and then we’ll meet, evaluate and see where we are for the next day.’’

Magic guard Evan Fournier, one of the players who remained in Orlando throughout the time off from basketball and stayed in shape with workouts from his home and at the Amway Center, likes the way Clifford has ramped up the intensity of practice with a competitive nature injected into every drill. Fournier, Orlando’s second-leading scorer at 18.8 points per game, said he’s happy with where the team is so far in terms of its conditioning, focus and drive to improve daily.

``Today was the first day where we had opposition, we played a little three-on-three and it felt great to just be able to play basketball,’’ said Fournier, who has totally healed from the elbow injury that he suffered in early March. ``(Thursday) was just five-on-(zero) and getting shots up. So, it felt great to make shots, play defense and be competitive. It felt good, but obviously we’re going to ramp it up these next few days. We’ll see, but it feels good.’’

Another key component to the NBA’s restart to the season is how players deal with their massive amounts of downtime while sequestered away from family and friends. For married players with children such as Nikola Vucevic, D.J. Augustin, Khem Birch, Fournier and Ross, they admitted that the hardest part of restarting the season was knowing that they would have to be away from their wives and children for a minimum of 5 ½ weeks and possibly as long as several months. Further complicating matters, Vucevic’s wife is expecting their second child in November, Augustin’s wife recently lost her father and Fournier sent his wife back to France to stay with his parents to help with raising his young son.

Ross got a welcomed surprise on Thursday to help him deal with the isolation when a care package arrived from his wife, Matijana, and his children, Tristan and Zoey. In addition to initially bringing along his video game console, gaming chair and electronic podcast equipment, Ross said the items in the care package helped him better pass the time of being away from family that live just a handful of miles away.

``They have a place where (family) can drop off stuff and you can get things delivered. They go through the stuff and clean it, so it takes a few days (to get it),’’ said Ross, who noted that his care package was filled with a bottle of wine and several of his favorite snack foods. ``It’s not too bad. I know a lot of guys are getting stuff and there’s a ton of Amazon packages downstairs. It takes a little time, but that’s how we’re getting stuff here.’’

Even with the care package being sent his way, Ross, 29, admitted that he’s already experiencing a variety of feelings while being back with his teammates, but kept away from his family.

``I mean, for me, it’s mixed emotions,’’ Ross said candidly. ``I love playing ball and being back on the court, regardless of it’s just walk-through, shooting around or whatever, and it’s fun seeing the guys (on the Magic). But it sucks that I’m not all-the-way comfortable with being in the (hotel) room all the time. I think being away from the family – the wife and kids – I’m still trying to get used to it. It’s still an adjustment period for everybody and everybody is still trying to bring as much stuff with them as possible to make them feel as at home as possible. But, right now, it’s a transition period.’’

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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