Orlando Magic are still moving at their own pace

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford continues to move his team along as they get ready for the season to resume.(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford continues to move his team along as they get ready for the season to resume.(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic got through their first scrimmage and saw plenty to like. Each player is seemingly moving at their own pace to get back.

The tape does not lie.

Coach Steve Clifford studies it exhaustively to get a sense of what his team needs to work on and where they are at. You could almost sense him salivating over the chance to go up against another team and have some sort of data for his team to build from.

The Orlando Magic know they have to be sharp from the start of the seeding round. And Clifford is an exacting coach. He was prepared to pick through the first piece of new film and find out what he had to do to help the team look better.

It is easy to get ahead of themselves and easy to want to get to the finish line. But with how unique this season is, everything and everyone needs a pause.

Everyone is at a different place. Wednesday’s scrimmage was a sign of that as much as anything.

This was the Magic’s first time on the floor in four months. There was no way everything was going to be perfect.

And something else was clear, everyone is at different places. Each individual and the team will have to go at their own pace with the aim of being ready for next Friday’s opener.

"“It’s just the way it is,” Clifford said after practice Thursday. “Some guys are in better shape for different circumstances and for different reasons. I feel really comfortable with the way we are doing things. The players understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re comfortable doing it this way and we’ll do it all the way through.”"

Steve Clifford said he has been discussing and plans to continue discussing where his players are at physically with high-performance director David Tenney. Injury prevention and making sure they do not overwork players is certainly still at the top of mind.

That was certainly on full display during the team’s scrimmage Wednesday.

Clifford would not admit the team was ahead of where he thought they would be. Nor did he say after the game that anything particularly surprised him.

But the scrimmage was still a productive one. Not merely for the fact the team got out and played.

Ahead and behind

Players like Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Michael Carter-Williams all looked especially fresh. The team had some great ball movement and looked ready to play for some long stretches.

But then players like Evan Fournier, James Ennis (recovering from testing positive for COVID-19 and catching up from being in quarantine for a while) and D.J. Augustin all looked still a step slow. Everyone had moments where they looked like they were working to get their legs under them.

"“My wind and everything was good,” Augustin said after practice Thursday. “Rhythm-wise, we have guys who are still out and getting where they need to be. Playing with different guys and playing with different rotations is going to be an adjustment as well. We have time, we have more scrimmage games and that time before the playoffs are going to help as well.”"

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Ennis said he felt fatigued and could feel it as he ran up and down the court. The practices are partly him trying to get himself into shape. Just as it will for everyone.

For instance, Mohamed Bamba is still playing on something of a minute restriction as the team tries to build up his conditioning after putting on more than 20 pounds of muscle. Bamba was limited to six minutes in the scrimmage and that has been about how much he has played even in practice.

And then there is Markelle Fultz.

Fultz again will be unavailable for the team’s scrimmage Saturday. The medical staff has determined he simply is not ready to play five on five even after going through a week of practice. He will not be cleared until he is able to go through 5-on-5 activity.

The team is working to get him physically there.

"“These guys missed so much time and they weren’t able to be in a gym,” Clifford said after practice Thursday. “For Markelle, it’s just the situation he was in. Right now, he’s not at a conditioning level where we are comfortable that he can get out there and play in a scrimmage, nor 5-on-5 in practice.”"

Everyone is going at their own pace to get ready for the season. They are following the plan the medical staff has set out for them.

Marching toward the season

Everyone has to clear their own benchmarks. But time will march on and the next scrimmage is quickly approaching.

Saturday’s scrimmage will see the team go to more normal rotation and use more normal playing groups.

Steve Clifford’s, at least, Thursday assessment was the team did a lot of good things. The good outweighed the bad. And while the second quarter was some cause for concern — as was the LA Clippers’ overall three-point shooting — there was plenty to build on.

The Orlando Magic could get to the work armed with this knowledge now.

Clifford said a lot of the mistakes the Magic made during the game were from things the team had not worked on yet.

While the team is in a sort of training camp, Clifford reiterated after practice Thursday that this is not a typical training camp.

The team has been more focused on getting them out there and playing rather than instructing and getting into the finer details that usually characterize the first days of camp leading into preseason games.

Everything is working on a compressed timeline on top of the work of conditioning players to play competitive basketball for the first time in four months.

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The practice Thursday was spent beginning to correct those details the team simply did not have the time to get to. With another day of practice, the Magic hope to be more ready for their scrimmage against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Increased urgency

And while everyone is going at their pace, the urgency has to go up too.

The Orlando Magic are balancing both trying to get everyone ready and healthy entering the seeding round and the understanding that every game takes on added importance for a team like the Magic.

Steve Clifford said part of the discussion the team had Thursday was recognizing that their urgency and focus has to speed up. They play perhaps their most important game of the season next Friday with a lot on the line against the Brooklyn Nets.

Prepared or not, the Magic have to be ready to play from the tip.

"“For teams like us and Brooklyn and Washington and Memphis and Sacramento, it’s different for us than the teams that know they are in,” Clifford said after practice Thursday. “These are three scrimmages that will lead to eight games that are part of their training camp. This is when the real competitors will come to the front. We are planning our team to play the most important games of the year.”"

The clock is indeed ticking.

dark. Next. Orlando Magic ready to build and play again

But the Magic seem to be letting everyone work at the pace their bodies let them as they try to get themselves. That might be all they can do.