Orlando Magic vs. Indiana Pacers: Game Preview

Mo Bamba
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- In a season filled with adversity, including playing through a pandemic, dealing with a truncated schedule, suffering an overwhelming number of injuries, and adjusting to multiple blockbuster in-season trades, the Orlando Magic face another new challenge on Sunday.

After Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford tested positive for COVID-19, Orlando cancelled practice on Saturday due to health and safety protocols. Now, the Magic (18-41) will be without their head coach as they get set to host the Indiana Pacers (28-31) on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

“I feel fine. I have no temperature. I feel one hundred percent,” Clifford said. “I got the second vaccination on Thursday afternoon, Moderna, and I know some people have had (some side effects), but I have had no problems at all. Again, (when I got my positive test result) I was beyond shocked.”

Before returning to the team, Clifford will now need multiple negative test results in order to clear the NBA’s health and safety protocols. In the meantime, assistant coach Ty Corbin will take over Clifford’s duties. It’s a move that Clifford feels extremely comfortable with as Corbin has 286 games of head coaching experience with lead stints in Utah and Sacramento.

“He’s obviously had experience as a head coach and he did it last year in Minnesota when I had the injury, the scare there at halftime,” Clifford said. “The guys have great respect for him, and he’ll do a great job.”

He’ll certainly have his hands full. Corbin takes the reins of an extremely young squad that’s won just one of their last 11 games and is riddled with injuries.

“The easy thing to do, to me, as the head coach is say, ‘oh, woe is me,’ but our guys are trying hard,” Clifford said. “We didn’t the other night (against the Pelicans), but we have for the most part. I want them to get the most out of these last thirteen games as they can. I think our younger guys have a good attitude about it (and) I think our older guys have been great. Obviously, our health issues have been nothing like I’ve ever dealt with before, but I want us to finish strong, and I want us to play better and make progress.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “This time is vital for going into the summer. You want to set a tone for who you are as a team going into the summer and into next season. If they’re going to play eighty-two games next year, we can use these next (thirteen) games as the start of next season. It takes the right approach. If we take the right approach and have the right attitude every day, we’ll come back next year as a better team.” – Magic backup point guard Chasson Randle on the team’s approach heading into the final stretch of the season.

INJURY UPDATE: For Orlando, Wendell Carter Jr. (sore right ankle) will be available to play, while Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left ankle), James Ennis III (sore right calf), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation), Otto Porter Jr. (left foot pain), and Terrence Ross (back spasms) are out.

For Indiana, Goga Bitadze (left ankle sprain), Jeremy Lamb (sore left knee), Domantas Sabonis (sore lower back), Myles Turner (right toe; partial plantar plate tear), and T.J. Warren (left foot; stress fracture) were all out for their game against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.

KEY STAT: The Magic signed forward Donta Hall to a second 10-day contract on Friday. Hall originally signed a 10-day contract with Orlando on April 13. He’s played in four games with the Magic, averaging 4.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 14 minutes per game.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Caitlin Cooper, who covers the Pacers for Indy Cornrows, the Pacers blog at SB Nation. She was kind enough to take the time on Friday – prior to Indiana’s game against Detroit – and answer a few key questions about the team.

Savage: “The Pacers, like the Magic, have been hit with the injury bug and it’s forced them to play some smaller lineups. How have the Pacers adjusted to the injuries and how have they changed their style of play?”

Cooper: “Over the last ten or eleven games, they’ve had either Turner or Sabonis out of the lineup minus last Sunday’s game against Atlanta when they were both available. Then, in the next game, they were both injured again. So, I would say the main change over the last ten or eleven games is they’re playing faster. They’re playing at one of the fastest paces in the league. They’ve really ratcheted it up since Caris LeVert became available and made his debut in the starting lineup. They’re using that to compensate and generate extra possessions and compensate for some of the loss in defense that they’ve had with Turner’s rim protection out of the lineup and also their season-long struggle on the glass. On Wednesday, they signed Oshae Brissett officially in the morning, who played in the G League bubble for them, and he had to start at the five because they were just running out of centers. They were dropping like flies. Goga Bitadze also injured his ankle against the Spurs on Monday. He came into the lineup, and they really had to rely more on switching against the Thunder with pretty much all five guards six-feet-seven and under out there playing. I thought they did a pretty good job covering the rolls and the slips against the Thunder’s bigs and guarding those more with three players and tagging better than they had against Atlanta, of course with not quite same level of talent across both teams.”

Savage: “Sabonis and Turner are both big staples of Indiana’s lineup. Who has had to step up and carry the load when those guys have been out?”

Cooper: “In the last two games (prior to Detroit), (Malcolm) Brogdon and Caris LeVert both were up over, I want to say, twenty shot attempts apiece. So, they’ve really had to lean on the two of them to be playing in a five-out scenario and driving the basketball. Whether that meant without screens or they run a lot of staggered action to be able to attack, and their entire offense is mostly predicated around getting to the rim, which is harder to do when you don’t have Sabonis as the savvy screener that he is or even Turner to be down there picking and popping. A lot falls on their shoulders and their creativity being able to get into the paint and either draw contact or make shots.”

Savage: “The Pacers sit at the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race and would be in the play-in tournament as we speak. What has to break right for them to not only make the play-in tournament, but to get past that and get into the opening round of the NBA playoffs?”

Cooper: “Number one is, of course, health. That sounds like a very basic answer to give, but until there are more details on what Myles Turner’s long-term status is with his indefinite absence with his toe and what Sabonis’ back situation is, that’s number one. Two, the scheduling actually plays in their favor a little bit. Right now, according to Tankathon, Toronto and Chicago have the third and fourth hardest remaining schedules (prior to Friday and Saturday's action). The Pacers and Wizards are at twenty first and twenty second, respectively. So, that plays into their favor if they can get healthy over these last fourteen games. If they do make it in – which I think there’s a good chance that they still will since they have a two-game cushion over the Wizards right now – they’ve only played Washington once and if that’s the nine-ten matchup, I think they should feel fairly confident about that. Russell Westbrook put up a very vintage Russell Westbrook performance with a thirty-point triple-double in that game. They had trouble defensively there being in their gaps and stopping his penetration with how their defensive system is schemed. I think if they can work out some of those kinks, they should be in pretty good shape.”

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