Orlando Magic hope they enter the bubble on a level playing field

Aaron Gordon will be at the center of trade rumors as the Orlando Magic seek a way to improve their roster. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon will be at the center of trade rumors as the Orlando Magic seek a way to improve their roster. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic feel they are entering the bubble on a level playing field with a chance to surprise teams with everyone starting from zero.

At this early stage, the Orlando Magic are just happy to be back on the court. They are happy to be playing again and they are focused merely on getting themselves in shape and back on the floor.

Coach Steve Clifford, usually a bit intense and demanding especially early in training camp, has been just as giddy and optimistic. This is a business trip, but a happy one for everyone. Players throughout the league are simply happy to be back on the court and looking forward to resuming the season.

The assessment from the early days of practice is that it is still too early to know very much. It is still too early to have a sense of how close anyone is to being ready to play. They just want to play.

That might explain Clifford’s seemingly sunny mood. Optimism surrounds everyone throughout the league. It truly feels like training camp. Or at least the time before training camp when teams are just happy to be back together again.

Everyone is eager to see the season begin.

The first scrimmage will take place in nearly a week — a week from Wednesday. The time to just be happy to be back on the court will quickly give way to focusing and preparing for the season once again.

What that season will look like is something a bit more unknown. And that unknown has also increased the excitement for the season, especially for teams like the Magic.

The Playoffs seem much more wide open.

"“I think it works out for the teams at the lower end of the playoffs,” Michael Carter-Williams said after practice Saturday. “The good teams or the higher-seeded teams aren’t in rhythm. It’s anybody’s game really. The teams that are locked in and focused during this time off are the ones who are better off. I think there will be some upsets. I think people will try to jump on each other early and try to do some damage.”"

This resumed season is creating a set of special circumstances.

Everyone is seemingly starting from zero. They are all going through the process of a re-training camp and getting themselves back in shape. It is unclear just how quickly anyone will be ready for the season.

No usual advantages

The usual advantages teams have from the playoffs — home-court advantage and good rhythm heading into the postseason — are also gone. It does feel like the number of true contenders has opened up.

Will it reach all the way down to the Orlando Magic at the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference? That feels unlikely, but who really knows at this point?

"“Home-court obviously plays a big part in team success in the playoffs,” Nikola Vucevic said during a teleconference before the team entered the campus. “I think for sure, it will be more equal for everybody. But then you have some teams that will be better than others. You might not see a difference as much. But it will help a little bit for some teams that are not necessarily favorites. They will have a better chance because it will be a neutral court and a specific situation for everybody.”"

The lack of home-court advantage is certainly going to make the playoffs different. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman is quick to say it will still be a full Playoffs — four best-of-seven series.

But it will undoubtedly be different. It is not a full playoff experience — even if the series and preparation are all the same. Home-court is meaningless, taking away a huge advantage.

More from Orlando Magic Daily

Markelle Fultz said the feel within the games is likely going to resemble AAU games. A quiet gym can still be a lively one. Teams know they will have to create their own energy once the games get started.

That little bit of hope for an 8- or a 7-seed though is enough to get them through.

There is certainly excitement and eagerness to get back on the court among players on the Magic. They are looking forward to the season and getting back together and on the court.

Starting from zero

Everyone has said the atmosphere around the team as practices have resumed is one of professionalism. Everyone is focused on the main goals and getting the most of their time within the campus setting.

That includes a realization that everyone is starting at zero and there is a chance to catch some teams by surprise perhaps. The door does feel wide open.

What happened in March is almost irrelevant at this point. Every team is going to have to prepare itself and hope they are ready when it is time to start the games up again.

The teams that are better prepared and further along could surprise.

"“The thing we have to do is use the time before the games start is to prepare well and take a serious approach to this,” Nikola Vucevic said in a media teleconference before entering the Disney campus. “Some teams are better than others, this being a very specific situation, I think you will not see a difference especially early on because part of it will be how teams adjust to the whole situation and how ready they are, conditioning-wise and all that. For us, if we take advantage of the next three weeks and put in some good work, we could pick up where we left off.”"

At this point, nobody knows how ready they will be when games start.

Steve Clifford said the team is further along than he thought they would be. He said their spirit and attitude toward practice have been good.

That is at least a start.

More from Analysis

If the first five practices were meant to mimic the team’s optional workouts in September, the next five practices leading into the first scrimmage are likely going to be similar to an actual training camp.

The next wave of practices will likely focus a bit more on preparing for the season.

Of course, the big issue remains to get everyone in basketball shape and improving their conditioning. That is the task behind everything. They are trying to get their bodies to catch up to their minds. They are treating games as if it is April, but their bodies will think it is October.

"“Your body needs a couple of games to get used to and back into rhythm, playing those minutes,” Vucevic said before the team entered the Disney campus. “It’s going to be different than a scrimmage and playing in practice. But we are going to be fresh and rested from having this big break. I think the first few games will be an adjustment, but after that, it will be pretty normal.”"

This resumption to the season is extremely difficult both on and off the court.

Everyone within the league is refuting the notion that this season’s champion will require an asterisk — or conditioning aside from noting how the season ended.

They believe the sacrifice players are making by sequestering themselves from the world and having to get themselves back into playing shape after four months off will make this title even more difficult.

Everyone is dealing with those same conditions. Everyone is dealing with the struggles to get back up to speed. And it feels like everyone is starting from a level playing field.

Certainly, the favorites are still the favorites then. The Magic’s chances of shocking someone and getting out of the first round are certainly still a mere hope.

But more than any other time, there is a chance to jump on some teams and build momentum earlier. There is so much unknown that everyone truly is starting from the same place.

Jonathan Isaac taking return day by day. dark. Next

And that is an opportunity the Magic would not have otherwise had.