All smiles as Orlando Magic return to practice

Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic returned to the practice court. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic returned to the practice court. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /
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The Orlando Magic were the first team to hit the practice floor and resume their season. And they were more than happy to be back at work.

Four months is a long time.

Seemingly 48 hours in quarantine and isolation can be just as long and restless.

The Orlando Magic experienced both, going four months from the last time they were all together March 10 on a plane ride back from Memphis after a rousing victory. That moment seems like a distant memory. A team that is completely different from the one that last played together.

To get the chance to play again and complete their playoff mission, they had to jump through several hoops. Not just the four-month-long layoff away from basketball, the game they worked their entire lives to turn into a profession, but separating from their families and staying in a hotel.

The stark reality of two days on their own with no contact was the price to pay to get back onto the court once again in the campus setting the NBA is building.

Then the Magic arrived on their new court. And everything seemed to brighten.

It might just be practice, but they were back.

The Magic did not do any contact for that first practice. It was more about just getting back together and getting a feel for their new surroundings. They are merely starting to get their legs under them. It looked like the Magic broke a sweat with some drills but not a whole lot more.

Coach Steve Clifford promised the practice would be more about seeing where the guys were at. They could not rush right back into a full team workout with contact and 5-on-5. This is not a typical beginning to training camp. The team still needs some conditioning work to get to that point.

But things seemed to go well. He said he plans to bring in some contact to practice Friday, including doing some 3-on-3 drills.

Teams around the league are acting cautiously as they ramp their teams back up. There was never going to be a dive directly back into full practice. Especially after everyone was cooped up in their rooms for two days.

Still, Clifford said he was pretty happy with how much the Magic retained as they started to reteach and rework their basic principles and sets.

"“I thought the energy was terrific and we remembered things at a higher level in terms of execution than I could have hoped for,” Clifford said after practice Thursday. “It will take some time to get that level of play back, especially offensively. We have a smart group. If they work like they did today, then I think we can make quick progress.”"

That probably speaks to the eagerness to be back on the court. This was literally like kids getting back to the school in some way. There was an eagerness and excitement of seeing old friends.

The shooting games after practice were back along with the camaraderie the team has missed so much. It felt like they were home again. The band was back together.

And that just made everyone happy. It is easy to see in the scenes from practice and from Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, who spoke to the media afterward, how much they had looked forward to this and what a relief this had become.

Gordon said focusing on basketball was tough with everything that has gone on in the world since the Magic last played — both the virus and the social justice issues that have come to the forefront. He had to find a new motivation to get out there.

He said he found that in playing for others — his teammates, the organizations, his NBA fraternity and a whole lot more. Even though there was some apprehension on his part, even talking to the media it was easy to tell being back on the court lifted his spirits.

That seemed to be a feeling throughout the team.

https://twitter.com/OrlandoMagic/status/1281400036375629830

There is still a ton of work to do, of course. This first practice was dipping their toes in the proverbial water. The team will slowly ramp up its workload soon. And players will get tested when they start playing some live games again.

That appears to be on the docket for Friday — although the team probably still will not play any 5-on-5 yet. At that point, the coaching staff can really see what kind of shape players are in and how fast they can accelerate through their training camp.

That will also be their chance to see just how much players have retained and where their awareness and instincts are at.

The first day though seemed to be more about getting back on the court. The Magic were happy to be back it seems. The pent-up energy from four months waiting to get back to work finally released.

There is still serious business to get to. The season will fast approach and the team aims to make the playoffs again.

Orlando Magic get the lay of the land at Grand Floridian. dark. Next

The Magic though are back to work. And they appear happy to be there.