Orlando Magic have no way of knowing how far they have to go

The Orlando Magic are still working to get themselves ready. And it is not clear despite the optimism how close they are to being ready to play. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic are still working to get themselves ready. And it is not clear despite the optimism how close they are to being ready to play. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are back to work and optimistic about their progress. But they have no way of knowing how ready they are for the games ahead.

The first three days of practice for the Orlando Magic inside the Disney campus have been lively and full of optimism.

Everyone who has talked about the team said they feel they are further along than they anticipated. The spirit, focus and competitiveness in practice have been good.

More than anything, it seems players are just happy to be back on the floor and working together. It seems they know they are there to do a job.

The countdown to when the work really begins is on. July 22 for the first scrimmage is a mere 10 days away. The first game comes July 31, a little more than a week after that. It feels like there is not a lot of time to get back into game shape.

While the early indications seem to be positive and there is a feeling of optimism around the Magic — as there probably is publicly around every team as they begin to practice again and leave quarantine — the plain fact is nobody really knows where this team is at or how close they are to being ready to play.

Those games seem so far away still. And the team still has a long way to go even with these positive signs.

"“I think we’re ahead,” D.J. Augustin said after practice Saturday. “Just the way we’re practicing, it looks like one of our practices before the hiatus. It looks like guys are in good shape. Just as far as us playing together and running offense, everybody looks to be on track with the same rhythm we had before the season ended. I’m excited about that as well.”"

The Magic are progressing it seems.

Saturday saw the team play live 3-on-3 games for the second straight day. Coach Steve Clifford said the plan is to do another day of 3-on-3 games and potentially start playing 5-on-5 Sunday, although whether they will be able to do that will depend on how they feel physically.

A big part of these preparations for Clifford is ensuring he is not overloading players or working them too hard. He wants to get through camp prepared but healthy. It is a tricky balance.

The on-court time, Clifford said, is being spent working through shooting drills and playing. That is the best use of time in this early stage of camp as players get back in shape.

The team has been gathering for a walk-through in one of the hotel ballrooms for roughly 30 minutes each day too. There Clifford said, he is implementing and teaching some of the defensive adjustments and tweaks he wants to install when games pick up and they can use practice more for game planning and prep.

Clifford also said the team is putting an emphasis on playing quicker. That was something film study after the season went on hiatus pointed toward the team needing to improve.

But like with everything else, it is uncertain how much of those changes and that instruction sinks in until they get to play a bit more.

It is not clear where anyone is as far as playing a full basketball game.

"“This is actually more about not getting better, but just trying to get back close to the same level,” Clifford said after practice Saturday. “Our guys have been good. I think they have put in a lot of time since we got back into the gym. But I think if they are being honest, they’re probably with their individual games more where they would be in early September. You’re going to see when we start to play, the quality of play early from all of us would not even be close to what exhibition or early season basketball would be.”"

That is quite a statement. It is going to be hard to dive right into high-pressure, playoff-level games. And it feels like every team is going against the clock — or at least, managing expectations.

Evan Fournier said after Friday’s practice that he is not even thinking about the games yet. The focus, rightly, is on getting himself and the team up to speed as quickly and healthy as possible.

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It is about hitting each step in getting ready for the games — however fast the team can go toward it.

Clifford said he has been happy with the team organizationally. They seem to be taking the work seriously and attacking it with good spirit. But it is impossible at this time to tell how close or how ready they are to playing games.

It is hard to know just what progress is other than to say they are inching toward playing 5-on-5 again.

"“I think most of our guys have worked hard,” Clifford said after practice Saturday. “I think it’s going to be hard for guys to say for a couple of weeks to say who is playing well and who is on top of things. We are the very very beginning.”"

Clifford has continually praised his players’ work ethic and efforts throughout the first few days of camp and the individual workouts that took place at the Amway Center for the last few weeks.

He said they had a good idea of where players stood even before camp — with the only caveat is not knowing how anyone would respond to contact.

Players understand those efforts have helped the team take a step forward. The Magic’s facility was one of the first ones to open up — Florida was in much better shape than it is now in terms of fighting the virus.

But that does not replace what it feels like to play real basketball. And the team knows it is chasing the feeling they had left in Memphis when the season went on hiatus.

"“I think we got a taste of it — the rhythm we can have and how we can play,” Michael Carter-Williams said after practice Saturday. “That’s what we are trying to build to. It’s not going to be tomorrow. But it’s going to have to be sooner than we probably thought. We want to get to that feeling where we are all playing together. everybody is in sync on defense, we’re pushing the pace and we’re scoring inside and out. Our goal is to get back to that and that’s how we want to play heading into the Playoffs.”"

Getting to that point will be the task for the team. It may be difficult to get all the way to that point again.

It may not happen before the season ends. It is not something that has a road sign or a checklist to reach. It is going to be a gradual process to get to that level again.

Next. Orlando Magic hope competition gets them up to speed. dark

How long it will take remains the biggest mystery of the league and this team’s return.