ORLANDO -- It’s been exactly two weeks since the Orlando Magic stepped foot into the NBA campus at Walt Disney World. While we all will get a better gauge of the state of the squad following their scrimmage against the L.A. Clippers on Wednesday, there are still plenty of takeaways from the team after 14 days in the bubble. Let’s take a look at the Top 10:
0) NONE BETTER: While under normal circumstances, I’d organize this list from 1 – 10, we’ll start with zero since that’s perhaps the most important number of the season restart thus far. The NBA announced on Monday that of the 346 players tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus since test results were last announced on July 13, zero have returned confirmed positive results.
When talk of the campus began, it seemed inevitable that there would be positive tests, especially early in the restart process. The NBA and Disney deserve a ton of credit for their planning and execution of a near impossible and unprecedented task.
1) SCRIMMAGE SCHEDULE: The next step in the restart campaign takes place on Wednesday when the Magic tip off their scrimmage schedule against the Clippers at 3 p.m. ET. Orlando will face formidable foes over the course of its three-game exhibition slate as the Los Angeles Lakers, the aforementioned Clippers and Denver Nuggets rank one, two and three, respectively in the Western Conference.
“We have the chance to get back into the playoffs for the second year in a row, which would be a good accomplishment for us,” Clifford said. “The (team) wants to get playing in a way that we could be a factor once the playoffs begin.”
All of the scrimmages will be broadcasted on FOX Sports Florida, FOX Sports GO and NBA League Pass.
2) SCRIMMAGE STATUS: As expected, Markelle Fultz and Isaac will not participate in the team’s scrimmage against the Clippers. Isaac is still working his way back from injury and Fultz is getting back into game shape after missing the Magic’s first seven practices to deal with personal matters not related to COVID-19.
3) J.I. TAKING IT ONE STEP AT A TIME: On Tuesday, the team concluded its 11th practice session since entering the campus on July 7. Without being on site, it’s hard to evaluate which players have been most impressive in those activities. However, it's still clear, even to those on that outside, that Isaac's work ethic is second to none.
Although it would be premature to think Isaac will play in the Magic’s seeding games as he continues to battle his way back from a posterior lateral corner injury and a bone contusion to his left knee, through his extensive work and rehab, he’s putting his commitment to the game on full display.
It’s safe to say the Minister of Defense is doing everything humanly possible to improve his odds, while following the proper safety protocols set forth by the team and High Performance Director David Tenney.
4) EXPANDING THE ROTATION: Usually, NBA coaches would be tightening up the rotation as the regular season comes to a close. But there’s nothing normal about the conclusion to the 2019-20 campaign.
As a result, look for Clifford – and many other coaches for that matter – to expand his rotation to help ease the burden on players, who haven’t played in an NBA game for over four months.
That bench unit, led by Terrence Ross, was exceptional in the few weeks leading up to the hiatus. As OrlandoMagic.com’s Josh Cohen pointed out: Orlando’s reserves averaged 44.7 points over that 12-game span, sixth most in the entire league when comparing the NBA’s benches. Also during that period, and probably even more impressive, the Magic’s bench averaged 6.8 3-pointers made per game, the best mark by reserves in the NBA.
5) MO MUSCLE: There’s certainly MOre of Mo, so to speak. The Magic’s back-up center believes he packed on 21 pounds, much of it lean muscle, during the hiatus.
“I didn’t have anything to do at home and they brought in, literally, half the weight room, and I didn’t have anything else to do but to lift,” Bamba explained. “I got a chef early on, like midway through March, and since then I’ve been eating like five to six meals a day and lifting for an hour or an hour-and-a-half.”
One of the things to watch during Orlando’s scrimmage schedule will be to see if that added weight assists Bamba in battling down low against some of the league’s premier big men.
6) WHERE BROOKLYN AT?: It’s stating the obvious, but the Magic (30-35) hope to use their eight seeding games not only to mold into prime postseason form, but to also surpass the Brooklyn Nets (30-34) and climb into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
Speaking of Brooklyn, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly the new-look Nets can come together. With Kevin Durant (Achilles) and Kyrie Irving (shoulder) already out for the season, Wilson Chandler opting out of the restart, and Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince not participating following positive COVID-19 tests (prior to coming to the campus), Brooklyn added Justin Anderson, Jamal Crawford, Donta Hall, Tyler Johnson and Lance Thomas to their roster.
Getting a unit with such a massive overhaul to gel would be a large undertaking even with a full training camp.
7) AMPLIFYING EFFORTS: The Magic have remained steadfast in their belief that they can use the resumption of the NBA season to amplify their efforts to combat social injustice and inspire others to join them in seeking equality for all. From the moment the team arrived at Walt Disney World in t-shirts that read, “GET OFF THE BENCH, GET INTO THE GAME, VOTE,” it was clear that they were matching their words with action.
The Magic have hosted a “Town Hall” with their team and staff, met with Desmond Meade – Executive Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, released a powerful video entitled “Walk With Us” and had Michael Carter-Williams join Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings on a Virtual Town Hall centered on race relations, diversity and inclusion.
Also, the team spent Tuesday afternoon watching a documentary on U.S. congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, who passed away last Friday at the age of 80.
“They were locked in to the whole thing,” Clifford said. “It’s a great documentary for an incredible American leader and time well spent.”
8) KEEPIN IT REEL: Remember the days of multi-sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who excelled both in the MLB and NFL? Well, Gary Clark is making the case that he could be not only in the NBA, but on the Major League Fishing tour as well.
Fishing and golf have been two of the most popular off-day activities for players on the campus and the former University of Cincinnati standout is making a clear case that when it comes to the former, he’s in a class by himself. Clark has out-fished the rest of his Magic teammates both in terms of quantity and size of the catch and has been the unanimous choice among his teammates for top angler on the squad.
9) THE GLASS IS HALF FULL: I’m not saying to read the recently rebooted Glass Half Full blog just because it’s written by my boss – ok, perhaps that plays a role – it’s just simply the best look inside Magic’s campus experience. As exciting as it is that the NBA has restarted, it’s also fantastic that this blog has come back to life.