Orlando Magic’s final potential put on pause along with playoffs to look forward to

The Orlando Magic should be spending the day preparing for their playoff matchup. The season is on pause and so is the momentum the team could have built.

The regular-season finale that was supposed to play Wednesday for the Orlando Magic against the Toronto Raptors might have meant everything — the potential to face those Raptors again or a dreaded trip to face the Milwaukee Bucks.

It might have meant absolutely nothing — the NBA 2K simulation the league sent out to regional sports networks including FOX Sports Florida had the Magic finishing 40-42 with a comfortable five-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets for seventh.

Either way, it would have meant something.

It would have been a final chance to celebrate a second straight playoff berth (moth likely) and a team that had established its playoff bona fides. A chance to appreciate the rookie growth from Markelle Fultz and however the team finished.

It would have been the last time to really relax before the seriousness of the playoffs began. There would be a big road trip coming up this weekend and a lot of preparation to do. The odds might have been long, but for 16 teams, they have the same 16 wins necessary to win a championship.

Your work for six months to get to that point and have that opportunity. The Magic had put themselves in a great position to enjoy that challenge — and it would have been a challenge — once again.

Of course, Wednesday was not the end of the season. There are no playoffs to prepare for this weekend. No matchups to review or scout. There is not a week full of events to plan for as the city welcomes back playoff basketball.

All that will have to wait.

The league is on hiatus and trying to map its way back as the world tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Halting the season was the NBA’s way of doing that, especially after several players within the league tested positive for COVID-19.

It is still not clear what the league will look like or how the league will make its return. Almost certainly, the league will return without fans until at least the 2021 season — if not well beyond that. It is still not clear whether teams will travel or congregate in one location to finish this season out.

The virus has upended the NBA, just as it has the rest of the world.

The rhythm of life and the turning of the calendar would tell us this is the time where we get to see basketball at its highest levels. Instead, we wait for teams just to get the OK to go back to their practice facilities and play basketball again — most players around the league surprisingly do not have access to a hoop and unlike a lockout, gyms around the country are closed.

Basketball has literally stopped, leaving us with HORSE competitions and NBA 2K to fill the gap (not to mention classic games on NBATV and soon FOX Sports Florida).

For the Magic particularly, this still feels disappointing.

Exciting was starting to build back up for the playoff run and the end of the season. The Orlando Magic were coming home from a 3-1 road trip after a rousing come-from-behind win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Terrence Ross hit two 3-pointers in the final two minutes to break a tie and stake the Magic a lead they would hold onto against their Western Conference counterparts in the 8-seed. Orlando came home feeling like they were playing their best basketball.

With what looked like a favorable schedule on paper, the Magic had the chance to build the momentum and confidence they would need to push one of the higher seeds in the Eastern Conference to their limits. It at least would have given them the chance to secure the 7-seed, although surely not as securely as NBA 2K’s simulation seemed to suggest.

After a season of offensive struggles, the Magic had started to put the pieces together offensively, clicking into place just like they had last year during the playoff run. Orlando had the top offensive rating in the league since the All-Star Break at 117.8 points per 100 possessions.

Those 10 games are a small but not insignificant sample size. And the Orlando Magic were starting to find their footing defensively again with strong showings against the Houston Rockets (101.9 points allowed per 100 possessions in that game) and Memphis Grizzlies (112.7 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Orlando’s usually strong defense was still a concern, especially because nobody ever really completely trusted the team’s offensive surge to last. The way Terrence Ross (22.2 points per game, 50.6-percent shooting from deep), Markelle Fultz (12.9 points per game, 51.4-percent shooting) and Michael Carter-Williams (9.6 points per game, 36.4-percent 3-point shooting) were shooting did not seem sustainable. Nor did Aaron Gordon‘s insane passing stats — 6.8 assists per game since the All-Star Break.

Then again, maybe it was a sign the team had turned a corner. Maybe it was a sign the team had found that spark and way to play to make that final push to the end of the season.

This was the part of the schedule everyone was waiting on since the schedule came out in August. Everybody knew March could be the time for the Magic to make this kind of a playoff push.

Things were really coming together for the Magic. The team had recaptured some of the spark that made last year’s team special. With eight of the next 10 games at home and nine of the next 10 against teams with losing records (a group the Magic have gone 25-9 against this season), everything was set up for the Magic to finish the season strong.

Now, nobody is sure quite what the season will look like. There will be a month of a re-training camp to get everyone back into game shape.

But then, it is not clear what the league will look like, what format it will take or how many games the league will give everyone before the playoffs start — and even what the playoffs will look like. So much is up in the air.

Wednesday was supposed to be the end of the regular season and the transition to the playoffs. Everyone around the league, including a team like the Magic, waited so long for that moment. It is everything they had worked for and earned.

In all likelihood, the Magic and the rest of the league will get that moment when the season resumes. Just nobody knows when that will be.

Who this Magic team is and what they could have accomplished — their final form and full potential for the season — was put on pause like the rest of the world.

Next: Magic Madness: A Hall of Fame Final

And all we can do is wait to get restarted so we can have that all again.