The Orlando Magic may have lost their first two scrimmage games, but they still need to have fun and give fans something to cheer about in the bubble.
How great has it been to have basketball back? Better still, how quickly have you been able to adjust to the fact there are no fans there and that different teams are coming up with creative ways to try and get some atmosphere on their broadcasts? For Orlando Magic fans, although they’ve lost their first two scrimmage games to both franchises from Los Angeles, just seeing the guys back out on the court and playing together has been great. Getting some wins when the seeding games start later in the week to snatch that seventh seed from the Brooklyn Nets would be even better.
But while the Magic are a part of this experience, they have a unique opportunity to use their time in the bubble to have some fun with it all and to carry that positive momentum into next season. This may seem hard to believe, especially because they’re not going to challenge for a championship while there, but this may yet be a good thing.
First, though, the bad news, and really the worst part of seeing the team back out on the court is just how much things haven’t changed since back in March when the regular season came to a halt. Guys are still missing open shots, and against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic went 2-for-22 from 3-point range in the first half of that game.
The results don’t matter, but to see the offense once again stuttering is a concern to head coach Steve Clifford. But perhaps being looser and having more fun with the games is the key to getting more shots to go down as well? The Denver Nuggets played Nikola Jokic at the point guard position recently, and aside from Twitter freaking out it was a cool and unexpected thing to see happen.
Magic center Nikola Vucevic isn’t quite skilled enough as a passer to do the same thing, but why not get a lot more out there with some of the personnel selections and rotations? With Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac both not playing for the moment (although Isaac is set to debut Monday night), this is a prime opportunity to try these things out.
Michael Carter-Williams at center? Wesley Iwundu playing more minutes as the two-guard? These are just two, not even particularly crazy, ideas for the Magic to implement their players in different ways and see what results it brings. Both those guys are hits with fans as well, with Iwundu in particular beginning to draw some attention from other fanbases.
Vucevic has looked as good as ever since the scrimmaging started, and in truth, the organization will only go as far as he carries them this season. He is so good at everything, especially offensively, where players move around him as he looks to find teammates with a pass, or shoot from deep himself. Around the basket, his footwork and ability to score has been well documented.
What about a pick-and-roll situation with himself and Carter-Williams? That’s not something we’ve seen too many times before, if ever. How about Carter-Williams diving to the basket, while Vucevic makes the decision on what to do with the ball? Another example of ways they can attempt to do things differently while in the bubble.
This is even more important off the court. The Magic’s core group has been together for a number of years now. To be in one place together with no distractions or family commitments, as much as this is difficult for the players to deal with, could do wonders for their chemistry if utilized properly.
Isaac and Fultz are going to be so important for this team in the near future, so to have them around now despite not playing is a good thing. Ordinarily, on road trips, guys with long-term injuries don’t travel, which would have ruled Isaac out. Not in this instance though, and the chance to be together like this has never happened before and should be taken advantage of.
Mostly though it’s about having some fun on the court, even when the seeding games start. The Orlando Magic aren’t likely to make it past the first round no matter who they play, so they should try not to put too much pressure on themselves and do the best that they can. Ironically this has led to their better periods of play over the last couple of years.
Too often they would play a lowly outfit, come out and look uninterested and like they didn’t want to be there, and then lose the game. The following night could be against a contender, and with few giving them a chance there would be a looseness to their play, smiles all round and a lot of the time an unexpected W.
Unlocking this way of playing, no matter who the opponent, is the challenge for coach Clifford in Florida. If they stay in the eighth seed and face the Milwaukee Bucks, they won’t be in the bubble much longer. If they rise to seventh and end up playing the Toronto Raptors, that would be cool to have a rematch from last year. Either way, the Orlando Magic are there, and their loyal fans are going to support them. Playing free and enjoying the experience would only add to it all.