ORLANDO – Among the many attributes that attracted the Orlando Magic to 7-foot center Mohamed Bamba, one that isn’t necessarily noticeable on the surface might actually benefit the rookie the most this season.
Bamba, 20 and owner of the longest wingspan in NBA history (7 feet, 10 inches), has never been the type of person to get particularly nervous about anything – be it a big test in school, public speaking in front of a large gathering or facing a big game in basketball. He even admits that ``I know it’s kind of weird,’’ but Bamba clearly doesn’t fret over what’s to come and instead relies on the work he’s put in to prepare for big moments.
Bamba certainly showed no nerves in the first preseason game of his NBA career, scoring 12 points, burying two 3-pointers and dunking over Sixers star Joel Embiid two weeks ago. The same was the case for his first-ever game at the Amway Center when he again scored 12 points, buried two 3-pointers and swatted four shots.
Prior to Wednesday’s season-opener – the first official NBA game for Bamba – the big man said that nerves would play no role whatsoever in his performance against the rival Miami Heat.
``There’s been so many different things that we’ve done to lead up to this moment, but to have that first official NBA game, I’m sure that’s something that will be really special,’’ Bamba said, referring to playing in the NBA Summer League, enduring his first pro training camp and going through five preseason games.
``I think (not being nervous) comes from practice,’’ added Bamba, who possesses the longest wingspan ever recorded by the NBA at 7 feet, 10 inches. ``When you are practicing against guys like this (on the Magic) and then you go into the game, I always think the games are easier than practice. These (Magic teammates) really know your game and they’ve been around you for a bit, so they know your tendencies. I think it just comes from the work that we do in practice.’’
MAGIC MOTIVATION: While head coach Steve Clifford has been adamant that he feels the Magic have the experience and talent to make a run at the playoffs this season, many of the prognosticators in the basketball world have disagreed with him.
Months ago, before NBA teams broke training camp, most analytics-based computer models had the Magic’s over/under win total projected at 31.5. That projection figure has since fallen to 30.5 – which would still constitute as a big improvement over last season when Orlando won just 25 games.
At 30.5 projected wins, the Magic sit 13thin the 15-team Eastern Conference. Boston (62), Toronto (56), Philadelphia (53.5), Milwaukee (48.5), Indiana (48), Washington (46), Miami (43.5) and Detroit (38.5) are projected as playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn (32.5) and Cleveland (31.5) have been predicted to win more games than the Magic, while Chicago (30.5) has an identical win projection. New York (27.5) and Atlanta (23.5) are the only two teams projected to finish lower than the Magic in the Eastern Conference standings.
Clifford has mentioned those pedestrian projections to the Magic in hopes that they will use them to fuel their competitiveness all season.
``Oh, I’ve told them that a lot, absolutely,’’ Clifford said of the low win projection for his team. ``These guys are prideful guys. There are, what, only 480 (NBA players) and there’s a reason why they’re here. They’re here to win.’’
30th ANNIVERSARY MEMORIES: With the Magic celebrating their 30th anniversary season, many of the team’s players and coaches were asked in the days leading up to the opener about their favorite memories from the franchise’s proud history.
While many of the players pointed to spectacular moments provided by superstar players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway or Tracy McGrady, Clifford could pinpoint his favorite memory down to a specific game. Of course, it helped that he was involved in that game as an assistant coach on the 2008-09 Magic team that reached the NBA Finals.
``Game 6, beating Cleveland here, for me,’’ Clifford said with conviction while referring to the game that clinched the Eastern Conference crown for the Magic. ``We were up double digits in Game 5 in Cleveland and LeBron (James) was just a monster in the second half and they beat us. We knew if we lost Game 6 that we’d have to play a Game 7 in Cleveland.
``My story that I remember is this – we didn’t practice the day before and we came in for shootaround and Rashard (Lewis) and J.J. (Redick) were in early to shoot,’’ Clifford continued. ``(Lewis) said, `Cliff, don’t worry. We’re good tonight because the Big Fella texted everybody and he’s going to be a monster.’ If you remember, Dwight (Howard) was just ridiculous, blocking shots and getting every rebound. It was phenomenal and that’s my favorite memory.’’
Orlando defeated Cleveland and James (25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists) that night 103-90 behind Howard’s 40 points, 14 rebounds and four assists.
UP NEXT: The Magic will be back on the practice floor on Thursday to prepare for Friday’s home game against the Charlotte Hornets. It will be the first time that Clifford has faced Charlotte since he was fired by that franchise on April 13. As the Hornets’ coach the previous five seasons, Clifford’s teams were a combined 196-214 and reached the playoffs two times (2014 and ‘16).
The Hornets and all-star guard Kemba Walker have given the Magic fits for years. Orlando has lost 12 consecutive games and 13 of the last 14 games against Charlotte. The last Magic win came on Dec. 16, 2015 – a 113-98 victory at the Amway Center.
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.