Team Continuity, Ross Says, Could Help Magic Get Off to Fast Start in Regular Season

by John Denton

ORLANDO – While numerous NBA coaches have marveled at the continuity that the Orlando Magic have carried over from last season to this one, standout shooting guard Terrence Ross feels the team’s familiarity and comfort with one another could help his squad get off to a fast start when the regular season opens next week.

Not only do the Magic return the same front-office leadership in President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond and head coach Steve Clifford, they also return 12 players from the 2018-19 squad that reached the NBA playoffs. That team developed a tightness and close chemistry that allowed it to go on a stirring 22-9 closing kick and rank as the NBA’s top defense over the final 2 ½ months of the regular season.

Now, with the core of the team back, Ross feels the Magic should have the ability to pick right up where they left off last season and start strong when the regular season opens. The Magic face the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Amway Center in Wednesday’s opener.

``We all know each other for the most part and we’re just excited to get back out there and play together,’’ Ross said of the Magic’s chemistry on and off the court. ``When you have a familiarity with everybody, it feels great. You’re more comfortable, you know everybody already and it takes that pressure off of having to re-introduce yourself to somebody new. We don’t have too many new guys, so that right there makes everybody feel good about our team.

``We all can take criticism for each other, we all know how to approach one another. That’s always the biggest thing for teams with a bunch of new guys – trying to figure out how a guy takes criticism or how to get the message across to somebody,’’ Ross added. ``I feel like we already have all of that figured out.’’

Several of the top teams in the Eastern Conference made major changes in the offseason. The defending champion Toronto Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in free agency, while the Milwaukee Bucks saw guard Malcolm Brogdon depart for the Indiana Pacers. Boston reacted to losing Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn by signing Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. Philadelphia is hoping that the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson can help soften the losses of Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick.

Referring to the advantages the Magic have with their continuity, Boston coach Brad Stevens said of Orlando, ``I think they are going to be one of the better teams around.’’ Meanwhile, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown sounded somewhat envious of the continuity that Orlando has carried over from last season to this one.

``(Continuity) is a priceless gift,’’ Brown gushed. ``I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it now: Talent does not trump time. You know, you need time and you want to expedite it and move it forward, but you need time. I respected the (Magic’s) organizational decision – which it obviously was – to persevere with the group that they have and coach that they have. Personally, I lived that life for 12 years (as an assistant coach) in San Antonio. I have not lived it in Philadelphia, but it’s what we all aspire to ultimately find.’’

FULTZ BUILDING CHEMISTRY: One of the Magic’s few newcomers, dynamic third-year point guard Markelle Fultz, has used this preseason to work to develop an on-court chemistry with his new teammates.

A bigger guard at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Fultz has already shown a knack for getting into the paint and attracting the attention of the defense. As Fultz has learned more about his teammates’ tendencies, his effectiveness as a playmaker has steadily risen. Fultz entered Thursday’s preseason finale against Miami as the Magic’s leader in assists at 4.4 a game.

``I think we’re at a pretty good point, we’ve learned a lot about each other, and we’ve seen the potential of how good we can be,’’ Fultz said. ``I think it’s been good for all of us. It’s been kind of easy (learning his teammates) because I love this game and I was able to come (to Orlando) early during the playoffs last year (following his trade from the 76ers to the Magic). I was able to see where guys like the ball and where they make their shots. Me being who I am – a good person and a good teammate – I already have a sense of where guys like the ball and where they play the best. So, it’s just about me giving guys the confidence that they’re going to get the ball when they are open.’’

Fultz has also used the preseason to clear up one of the questions that surrounded his game during a rocky first two seasons in the NBA while playing for the 76ers.

Bothered by a nerve and blood vessel malady known as thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder, Fultz’s free throw form in the past was often filled with nervous hitches and glitches. He shot just 47.6 percent from the free throw line as an NBA rookie in 2017-18 and his percentage (56.8 percent) improved only slightly in 19 games last season while still battling shoulder issues.

Now fully healthy after working with physical therapists and the Magic coaching staff since last February, Fultz’s stroke from the free throw line looks more confident and one that is repeatable. In Orlando’s first five preseason games, Fultz showed off his vast improvement from the free throw line by making five of seven attempts (71.4 percent).

``I’ve been trying to get to the free throw line to get those easy points,’’ Fultz joked. ``Again, that’s something that I worked on over the summer and something that I’ve worked on my whole life is free throws. They’re free (points) and it’s just about me taking my time and knocking them down. That’s something I’m very confident about. I’ve put in a lot of work on it and I’m happy with it.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic will now begin preparations in full for Wednesday’s regular-season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That game will tip off just after 7 p.m. and it will be televised by Fox Sports Florida.

The Magic will open the regular season at the Amway Center for the fifth consecutive season. However, this will be the first time since 2015 that the Magic are facing someone other than rival Miami in the season-opener. The Magic started the regular season against the Heat each of the past three years, winning two of those games.

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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