The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw them play basketball. In order to get you up to speed before the July 30 season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Philadelphia 76ers • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz • Washington Wizards]
Where were the Orlando Magic?
Place: Eighth in the East
The Orlando Magic were what they have been for much of the franchise’s history, a middling team with no clear direction. Over the past two seasons, they have at least assumed the defensive identity that has been a staple of coach Steve Clifford’s success with less-than-stellar rosters. Orlando registered a top-10 defense despite the presence of a number of offense-first castoffs from better contending teams and the absence of defensive phenom Jonathan Isaac for half the season. At the very least, they play hard.
The Magic are not without talent, as they should be, having owned six straight lottery selections before last year’s first-round playoff exit. Only Isaac, Mo Bamba and Aaron Gordon remain from that misery, and all three have been eclipsed around the league by a number of more talented players picked after them. Orlando traded two future All-Stars for a few months of Serge Ibaka and a late first-round pick in 2016, which is a depressing sentence to write. New management brought new hope, but for the same result.
Who’s in and who’s out?
Out: Jonathan Isaac (knee), Al-Farouq Aminu (knee), Markelle Fultz (conditioning)
Isaac’s status is in serious question. He suffered a knee injury on New Year’s Day that did not require surgery but has left him sidelined ever since. While the hiatus gave him extra time to heal, and he joined his team at Walt Disney World, the Magic are understandably proceeding with caution with their most promising prospect, a third-year forward who missed all but 27 games in his rookie season with recurrent ankle injuries. Orlando has not yet ruled out shutting him down completely for the remainder of the year.
Al-Farouq Aminu underwent season-ending surgery on his torn right meniscus in January.
Markelle Fultz, who did not join his team until last week due to a family obligation, sat out Orlando’s first scrimmage for precautionary reasons, but is expected to be in uniform when the season reopens. Evan Fournier, who suffered an elbow sprain in early March, shook off his rust in Wednesday’s scrimmage.
NBA Finals odds: +10000
Championship odds: +25000
Fultz had no business being the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, but he did finally begin to show flashes of what made him a high-end lottery prospect in his first season since being discarded by the Philadelphia 76ers. He earned Orlando’s starting point guard job, attacking the basket with a downhill force and brandishing an instinctive feel for finding open teammates. The bizarre shooting woes that have plagued him since he was drafted remain, but he at least has the confidence to fire multiple threes per game.
There is plenty of room for improvement in Fultz’s 12.1 points and 5.2 assists in 28.3 minutes a night, and much of it will come with consistency. All of his breakout 20-point scoring performances have come against the league’s worst teams, save for a 21-11-10 triple-double in a one-point upset of the Anthony Davis-less Los Angeles Lakers in mid-January. It is those nights that have us hopeful Fultz can still tap into all that potential. Doing so now rather than later could at least make a first-round series interesting.
(All times Eastern)
July 31: Brooklyn Nets, 2:30 p.m.
Aug. 2: Sacramento Kings, 6 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 4: Indiana Pacers, 6 p.m.
Aug. 5: Toronto Raptors, 8 p.m.
Aug. 7: Philadelphia 76ers, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 9: Boston Celtics, 5 p.m.
Aug. 11: Brooklyn Nets, 1 p.m.
Aug. 13: New Orleans Pelicans, TBD
The Magic trail the Brooklyn Nets by a half-game for the seventh seed, and the two teams meet twice in Walt Disney World. Given that Brooklyn is essentially a scab team, Orlando has every reason to believe it can seize that opportunity. That may mean the difference between a first-round sweep at the hands of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks or a gentleman’s sweep by the second-seeded Toronto Raptors or third-seeded Boston Celtics, but every playoff win is precious for a franchise that only got its first since 2012 last season. The Magic are 0-9 against those three potential first-round opponents this season.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: Seventh in the East
Finish: First-round loss
Check out the NBA Disney World bubble in augmented reality:
More from our NBA restart series:
– – – – – – –