ORLANDO, Fla. (BVM) — As the NBA season nears its resumption, the 22 teams invited to the Orlando bubble are gearing up for a run at the championship. Scrimmages are well underway, and regularly-run practices are taking place. Favorites have been named, with teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers mentioned most frequently.
But will the Orlando Magic, in the comfort of their own home, have a run in them?
In their three scrimmage games leading up to the July 30 restart, the Magic posted a 1-2 record, but got to practice against the premier talents of the bubble. In their first matchup with the LA Clippers, they dropped a close game, 99-90. They then squared off with the other LA team, LeBron James’ Lakers, losing 119-112. In their final game with the Denver Nuggets, the Magic prevailed, 114-110.
The Nuggets boasted a tall-ball lineup, with center Nikola Jokic running the point guard, forward Jerami Grant at the shooting guard, forward Torrey Craig at the small forward, and big men Paul Milsap and Mason Plumlee rounding out the front court.
Although the Magic ultimately posted a losing record in their three exhibitions, they faced the best warmup competition available, and showed flashes of what could be.
With nobody on the Magic currently affected by COVID-19 or injury, their entire roster is at full strength. Yes, this means the return of 6-foot-11 forward Jonathan Isaac, who was believed to have been lost to a season-ending injury. Thanks to the NBA’s four-month hiatus and his dedication to rehabilitation, the defensive stud is back.
In their final scrimmage against the Nuggets, Isaac posted 13 points and seven rebounds in limited minutes. Isaac’s unexpected return gives head coach Steve Clifford a swiss army knife at his disposal.
Additionally, role players and bench players alike have been stepping up throughout scrimmages, showing they are ready to make a difference when the season resumes. James Ennis, acquired at the trade deadline, contributed 15 points and five rebounds versus the Nuggets. Michael Carter-Williams was a plus-23 in the plus/minus category.
But the player who could be the make-or-break piece for the Magic’s playoff run is Markelle Fultz. After his first two seasons were plagued by injury and the continual development of his jump shooting form, the Philadelphia 76ers gave up on the young combo guard. However, he may have found his home in Orlando. The still young 22-year-old is averaging 12 points and five assists per game this year, with career marks from the field (47.3%) and free throw line (72.3%).
“I still have a lot to prove,” Fultz told Orlando Magic reporters. “One is just staying in the playoffs and getting past the first round, but we gotta get there first. Take each game one at a time.”
Only time will tell if the Magic have what it takes. In order to maintain a playoff position, they will have to battle with the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards. Orlando currently holds the final playoff spot in the East, a half game behind Brooklyn. The Magic will try to hold off the Washington Wizards, who sit five games back right now on the outside looking in of the playoff picture.
Orlando and Brooklyn will square off on July 31 for the Magic’s first official game in the bubble. The Nets will compete the remainder of the season without Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Deandre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler and Nicolas Claxton.