Orlando Magic’s remaining schedule must feature these games

The Orlando Magic made their lone national TV appearance and even they commented on their lack of star power. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
The Orlando Magic made their lone national TV appearance and even they commented on their lack of star power. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald) /

The NBA seems to be inching closer to a return. While we still do not know what that season will look like, we can draw from the schedule to piece things.

At this point, nobody knows when the Orlando Magic and the NBA will play again.

Yes, the league has begun to signal toward franchises they can reopen their training facilities as states lift their stay-at-home orders. This is merely an initial step though. Teams still will not be able to have organized activities and access to the gym and weight room will be limited.

The first phase of the government’s planned reopening allows gyms to open only if they maintain social distancing and sanitation standards. With just 15 players to manage and a small support staff, it would make sense for NBA practice facilities to be among those gyms to reopen during phase one of the nation’s recovery.

But it should be stated very clearly this cautious reopening is not a sign the NBA is close to a return. There are still a lot of things to iron out — the schedule and where and how games will be played chief among them. Players are not going to agree to a return until they are certain they can do so with their full health and conditioning.

The NBA is not yet entering its month-long plan to return — using individual workouts and then a mini-training camp to ramp back up toward the season.

The only thing that appears clear is the NBA will not return straight to the playoffs. They will give teams at least a few games to run back up to the season.

Even finding the right number is difficult. Teams have played anywhere 67 games (the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks) and 63 games (the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs). The Orlando Magic are at 65 games and the Brooklyn Nets are at 64 (thus, the one-half game difference between the teams for seventh in the East).

It is very realistic the league will see teams play an uneven amount of games. That will have some small effect on the final standings.

My belief is the league will give teams at minimum 10 games before entering the playoffs (perhaps it will be a little less). That should give teams both the time to get back into playing rhythm and to ramp up to playoff intensity.

Where to play

How those games will be composed and where they will play is the bigger question.

Early signs suggest players are not in favor of being sequestered for two-plus months in one location. The idea of playing within a bubble is certainly one worth considering but also comes with its own logistical challenges — for what it is worth, Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports floated Disney as a potential location for such a bubble idea.

If trends keep going in the direction they have been, there is at least the chance the league and players could feel comfortable with players traveling from city to city again and playing in empty stadiums. With players often traveling on private jets, so long as hotels are opened again, they could theoretically keep everyone fairly quarantined while they are on the road, limiting contact to each other, hotel rooms and buses.

To be clear, nothing will get done unless the players feel safe to travel and play again. They are a part of the decisionmaking to return as much as the league desires to return.

The good news is that it seems all the players are antsy to return. But leadership from both the union and the league will make sure it is safe for them to return fully.

Assuming the league can approve travel again, they will still want to be careful and try to keep teams relatively regionalized and able to play their games quickly with as little travel as possible. Creating hubs will help ease some tension.

That will all come into play as the league figures out how to reset the schedule.

What’s left for the Magic

To some extent, the league has to try its best to maintain what was left of the season. Even if the league will not be able to play the final games as scheduled, they should still look to draw on the opponents teams had left.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

If teams are only going to have 10 games left, they need to reflect what the actual season would have looked like while minimizing travel. The league still needs to make sure important games are played too to clarify and finish off playoff races.

It will not be perfect. Some teams still had cross-country trips on their schedules. They may have been done playing the teams closest to them to make for travel easier. The schedule will inevitably be uneven. And some teams might have to play each other more than originally planned.

But under this thought experiment at least, which games should the NBA make sure the Orlando Magic keep from their original schedule?

The Magic would have had 17 games left — 10 at home and seven on the road. That means the Magic should get six “home” games if possible in a 10-game remaining schedule.

As for their road games, that seems fairly straightforward. Orlando had a three-game road trip planned for late March and early April to face the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Keeping that trip intact with the Magic’s game against the Nets makes a road trip fairly easy for them.

Orlando can finish all those games off fairly quickly and in the case of the Knicks and Nets, not even leave the city to play those two games.

That obviously gives New York and Brooklyn — along with Los Angeles — an advantage in schedule potential games. Of course, New York City could be a lot further away from accepting visitors of any kind than other states. As could Los Angeles — California does not plan to lift its stay-at-home orders this week.

The team could also knock out a trio of games it has in the midwest with the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls all in one outing. But the four games in the mid-Atlantic have a nice central location and provide a more balanced test to their schedule.

The Magic’s schedule lends itself to completing itself. The team can easily knock out these road trips if needed and play home for the rest of their games.

While the Magic still had one of the easier schedules in the league coming down the stretch, the tail end of it was very difficult. And the league should do its best to preserve at least the difficulty teams had remaining  — it is possible the league just goes to a division-based regionalized finish to the schedule too.

Orlando could benefit from that too. They still had two more games with the Charlotte Hornets to play. And the New Orleans Pelicans were due into town too. That would easily make up three of the six Magic home games they should still get.

It would be hard to see the Magic get both games in against the Nets. To be sure, any schedule the NBA devises needs to include at least one of those showdowns with Brooklyn to help decide the 7-seed in the East.

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The Magic’s home schedule should feature both games against the Hornets — for division continuity and proximity. And it very well could feature that last game against the Toronto Raptors, considering they were still due a Florida swing.

An imperfect model for unprecedented times

There is no perfect solution. The regular schedule might serve as a model, but it is hardly perfect for this situation. The league will have to adapt and perhaps throw out those remaining 17 games.

It would be hard to ask West Coast teams to make the trip East for long road trips in this scenario. If the league wants something to resemble its original schedule, it would be impossible to avoid this — believe me, I tried. And devising a full 10-game schedule that balances everything is nearly impossible, again I tried.

If I were creating an ideal 10-game schedule for the Orlando Magic to finish the regular season it would go like this:

Home — Boston, Charlotte, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, New Orleans
Away — Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia

The Magic’s actual remaining strength of schedule was .468. The strength of schedule of these remaining games is .476. So the Magic would likely face a tougher schedule in the final 10 games than what was originally planned.

But this schedule gives the Magic some difficult challenges while centralizing their road games in a very general area. The home games are relatively manageable overall.

This is more of a thought experiment than how things will actually go. The NBA has not yet come close to announcing what the schedule will look like or how the league plans to come back.

dark. Next. Orlando Magic have plenty to remember from frustrating 2020

The world seems to inch (slowly) closer to it. And so we will see if the Magic will get to finish their season.