Orlando Magic won’t be able to pick up where they left off

The Orlando Magic and Terrence Ross were playing their best basketball before the season went on hold. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic and Terrence Ross were playing their best basketball before the season went on hold. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic stopped their season right when they were hitting their stride. After a four-month layoff, they won’t be the same as they were then.

The Orlando Magic had everything rolling in mid-March. They were hitting every shot they threw up at the rim, putting up the best offense in the league. Their schedule was set up for them to succeed too — eight of the next 10 at home and most against teams with losing records.

Ask anyone with the Magic and they would probably tell you this team was about to turn the corner. They saw brighter days ahead.

Yes, there were some problems bubbling underneath the surface — the defense notably dropped off as the team started scoring at a league-best rate. The Orlando Magic were not about to rally to catch the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers for sixth — they trail that spot by nine games.

The flaws that put the Magic in seventh all still existed.

But Orlando was healthy, was able to field a consistent lineup and rotation, was hitting shots at a high rate. The basketball was fun again. And the schedule seemed to be set up for them to make their stand and surge into the Playoffs for the second straight year.

Recapturing that feeling is going to be one of the bigger challenges now that four months have separated the Magic from their last game.

Everyone is trying to recapture the feelings and rhythm they had in March. And the reality is there is no getting that back.

"“To be quite honest, that’s going to be impossible,” Evan Fournier said in a ZOOM conference with media Thursday. “You can’t expect us to get back into such a great rhythm within just a month. I think the key for us is going to be to make sure we know every player and every coverage. It has been three months. Some of us are going to forget. Some of us won’t’ have the instinct we have during the season. It’s really going to be about building team stuff.”"

Focus on getting in shape

A lot of the focus as teams prepare to begin training camp next week after arriving on the Disney campus will be assessing and judging what kind of shape they are in. Training camp at the start will be about getting players back to game speed.

Nobody is certain how quickly this will happen or just how far teams will have to go. Let alone whether they will be able to be fully ready in time for the season to resume — for the Orlando Magic, that is July 31.

The Magic were playing exceptionally well when the season went on hiatus.

They had won eight of their past 12 games. They had the top offense in the league in their 10 games after the All-Star Break. They were coming home off a 3-1 road trip with eight of their next 10 games at home, the soft spot in their schedule they were waiting on all season.

As much as the NBA wants this to be a straight resumption of the season, four months is essentially an offseason’s worth of time. Players have not been able to play competitive games — even pick-up — during that time. There is a lot they will need to make up.

Everything is different at this point. There is no going back to that save point.

"“To go from the middle of the playoff race to a dead stop is going to be challenging,” Terrence Ross said in a ZOOM conference with media on Thursday. “And honestly, I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what to expect when it comes to going into the bubble, what day-to-day life is going to be like, what family life is going to be like. I don’t know what to expect. It’s kind of a lot to think about.”"

The prospect of going to the bubble is definitely a pretty daunting task. Even the thought of packing for potentially three months is a huge thing.

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There is a ton of uncertainty with how things are going to go. And part of the early training camp process will be creating routines and settling into their new homes.

All the while, everyone will be working to get back to basketball shape. Nobody seems certain just how quickly things will pick back up. Players might be in the best shape possible but getting the instincts back will be tough.

A brand new start

It almost feels like everything that happened before the hiatus does not matter anymore. There is only so much one can glean from game tape from before.

Teams will not change tendencies too much. They are still fundamentally who they are. But coach Steve Clifford said he expects teams to implement wrinkles. As much as they can in the condensed training camp everyone will go through.

But the carrot of the Playoffs is enough to get everyone back.

"“When I think about going to the playoffs, I think about going on the road and playing in a hostile environment, having media coverage and all that,” Evan Fournier said in a ZOOM call with media Thursday. “To me, it’s not going to be a playoff atmosphere. So you don’t really get to experience it for real. However, you do get to play meaningful games against the best teams in the NBA. That’s the part where you can learn and grow. I think that’s what we should focus on.”"

The apprehension of returning to the court is also about being ready for those important games. For a team like the Magic, the only thing to gain seemingly is the experience of Playoff preparation and playing pressure games.

It will not be the same of course without fans. But the high intensity of these games will put players through a crucible that will make them better in the long run. That is the hope at least.

That is all they can make out of the season at this point.

Back on the court

There are a ton of more important concerns and bigger storylines to follow when the NBA resumes. The Orlando Magic might seemingly be a bit player.

They are not championship contenders. Nor are they especially an interesting young team that could use the seasoning. That is unless Jonathan Isaac is cleared to play.

That is not to say the Magic do not need another year going through the Playoff ringer or learning how to play meaningful, pressure-packed games.

At the very heart of it though, these are people who want to get back to jobs. Jobs they love.

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At this point, everyone just wants to play again to some extent. They are willing to put in the work and make the sacrifice to get there.

Even if it is different.

"“That’s the one thing I’ve been missing more than anything is going out there and competing and being on a team and having fun and playing in those moments,” Terrence Ross said on a ZOOM conference with media Thursday. “We were in a good spot where we were playing really well. I think everyone is kind of anxious to get back to that.”"

There may be no getting back to that level. Not immediately, at least.

There may not be getting back to that level even after a few weeks of training camp. The team is just hoping to get back up close to that speed as quickly as possible.

From there, they can see where the games and the season takes them. It will be a mental challenge as much as a physical one. They just hope to make the best of it.

"It’s going to be tough,” D.J. Augustin said in a ZOOM conference with media Thursday. “But my main focus is to win as many games as we can and hopefully surprise somebody.“This is a tough situation for us as players and coaches and just the NBA period. The organization going on behind everything we are doing at Disney. I think this is going to be one of the toughest championships or seasons to ever finish. I just want to make the best of this opportunity and this time.”"

Nobody will be able to pick up right where they left off. There was simply too much time and too much disruption.

The resumed season will not be the perfect continuation the NBA hopes for. It is simply a step to finish the season — for legacy, for finances and for normalcy.

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It is almost like this is a brand new start for everyone. And that only provides an opportunity for those willing to get back up to speed as quickly and safely as they can.