Orlando Magic will get a status check in opening scrimmage

Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic hit the floor for the first time since March as they face the LA Clippers on Wednesday. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic hit the floor for the first time since March as they face the LA Clippers on Wednesday. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are going to get a check on exactly where they stand and the progress they have made in the NBA’s return in their opening scrimmage.

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford suspects not much will be different from a typical road game when his team lines up against the LA Clippers on Wednesday afternoon.

Aside from the 3 p.m. start, the team will go through its usual walkthrough at a room in their hotel. That is not too different from the typical walkthroughs the team does inside a hotel ballroom before road games.

The team will arrive however to an empty stadium. Something few players have seen to this point — Clifford said nobody took up the NBA’s offer to check out the stadium before the games began.

The aura while playing in a stadium without fans will be different for sure. But on the eve of playing their first game since March 10, the Magic just seem happy to be playing again.

"“Even for us players, we want to see how it is to be back out there after so long,” Nikola Vucevic said after practice Tuesday. “It will be different. I think everyone is going to be very excited to be back and compete. It is going to be fun to play against someone on a different team.”"

The Magic will be the first NBA team to play a game since the season shut down March 11 when they take on the LA Clippers on Wednesday at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Disney.

The apprehension and anticipation for this restart to the season will finally come to a head as the team takes its first steps back onto the court. The NBA’s come back — its #WholeNewGame — becomes real with the preseason games.

But to the players, as exciting as it is to be back on the court, this is more of a status check. It is a chance to see just how far along the team really is in getting back to play.

The concern from Clifford throughout the run-up to play has been making sure his players are in decent shape to get through it. That has been a concern likely shared throughout the league. It is an answer nobody really has yet.

Vucevic noted that in a typical offseason everyone still plays through the summer — whether that is summer pick-up games or with the national team. Even at the first preseason game, they have a sense of what game speed and shape are like.

But the games are going to come nonetheless. The first scrimmage is one of three tuneups before the games start to count beginning next Friday.

And so right now Clifford just wants to see where his team is at.

"“I just want to get a feel, to be honest, of every aspect of the game,” Clifford said after practice Tuesday. “Where we are at offensive and where we are at defensively. You’ve got to have the right intensity the right concentration and the right purpose of play. If you watch our last eight team games, we had that. And that’s what we have to get back to.”"

Clifford said he is still devising how many minutes everyone will play. He said he is not going to mix minutes up too much — so expect some platoon substitutions and not much mixing between the starters and the reserves.

The way Clifford wants to spread out minutes will make it difficult to mix up minutes too much and maintain the team’s rhythm and rotation.

Every player except for Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz will be available to play. Additionally, some players, such as Mohamed Bamba, will still be on a minute restriction.

Clifford said last week not every player is participating in every activity the team is doing as a means of some load management. Bamba has clearly put on some additional weight and the team is likely being cautious as they ramp him up toward more meaningful play.

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Clifford said the most he has been able to play in 5-on-5 situations is 5-6 minutes. It will take time for him to build up his conditioning to play more minutes. Other players have noted similar for themselves — Evan Fournier estimated Sunday he could probably only play about 12 quality minutes at this point.

That is a similar thing to Isaac.

Clifford said Isaac has done some contact in 5-on-5 play and is progressing well. But the team still wants to be cautious with his return. Both he and the coaching staff understand how important his development is to the franchise’s future and they do not want to push him faster than the current pace.

That is at least some good news on Isaac’s progress.

But the focus for those who are playing will be on trying to re-establish where they were at the end of the season.

"“I know we’re going to have to work through the kinks and get our rhythm in this scrimmage,” Michael Carter-Williams said after practice Tuesday. “It might be a little sloppy. Hopefully, we’re able to move the ball offensively and be unselfish. And defensively just be sharp. Be in our positions, where we’re supposed to be. And do the best we can defensively. We know our offense won’t be as smooth as it was before. If we can be smooth defensively and be active, we can get some easy baskets on offense.”"

Clifford said the emphasis throughout practice has been on maintaining the team’s pace of play that was successful after the All-Star Break while trying to find the defense that anchored the team early in the year.

That might be bigger picture things the team are working toward in practice. This first game is still a bit of a mystery just to see how everyone looks.

It will be hard to put too much stock into it considering the long layoff. But the optimism is undeniably there.

Carter-Williams said he feels the team is doing well. He feels they can quickly get back their rhythm and these games are just another avenue to get there.

Vucevic too said he felt like he was in good shape and his conditioning was as good as it could be. He still believed finding team chemistry and rhythm is likely to take some time especially as they get used to playing at game speed.

They are eager for this test.

"“I think we’re a step ahead because of the work we have put in,” Carter-Williams said after practice Tuesday. “We’re playing live. We’re ready for our first scrimmage. We’re ready to go.”"

Next. The 2020 Magic are much improved. dark

Only time will tell if they truly are.