Orlando Magic hitting critical time to find their stride

Michael Carter-Williams has helped lead the charge for the Orlando Magic in the early scrimmages. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Michael Carter-Williams has helped lead the charge for the Orlando Magic in the early scrimmages. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are looking to hit their stride. But their first injury and the potential return of Markelle Fultz will force the team to band together.

The fall happened right in front of the Orlando Magic’s bench and was truly scary.

In the second quarter of Saturday’s scrimmage, Wesley Iwundu received a pass with an open lane in front of him. He went up for a dunk and received a slight push from behind from J.R. Smith. Wesley Iwundu did not get enough lift on the dunk and missed it, the ball barely clearing the top of the rim.

The push knocked Iwundu off balance and he was not able to hang onto the rim to brace his fall. He continued rotating as he fell toward the ground, unable to get his hands down in time to brace his fall.

Iwundu hit the hardwood headfirst, cutting the skin above his left eye. He was visibly bleeding as he was taken to the locker room to receive four stitches to seal it up.

The injury seemingly could have been much worse. On Sunday, the Magic announced he would enter the league’s concussion protocol, taking him out of Monday’s scrimmage and leaving at least some mystery as to whether he will play in Friday’s seeding round opener.

This is life for any team even outside the campus. Key injuries happen throughout any point of the season — even crunch time. This Magic team has dealt with its share.

But this is also a critical time where the Magic are trying to find their rhythm and pace again after a four-month layoff.

A mixed bag

The Orlando Magic have had a mixed bag through the first two scrimmages. The team has struggled to shoot, making only 12 of 67 3-point shots (17.9 percent). But they have done a good job attacking the paint and getting to the foul line. That has helped buoy the offense through some rough stretches.

With just one scrimmage left, the team has little time before the games count and build off the successes from the first two scrimmages.

"“We always want to get to the rim,” Michael Carter-Williams said after practice Sunday. “We’re an attack-first team. We finish well in the lane. If we can keep getting into the lane and finding guys in the perimeter and playing inside-out, that’s where we play best. We’ve just got to knock down shots."

Orlando is hardly scrambling. The team still has a week and one more scrimmage to get ready for games to count. The team has been fortunate not to deal with many injuries. The team has largely been intact for the training camp portion of the season’s restart.

Nearing returns

Jonathan Isaac is still recovering from his injury, but he seems to be making progress toward a potential return. And Markelle Fultz, who joined the team late inside the Disney campus, is also getting closer to a return as he gets his conditioning back up.

He participated in five-on-five practice for the first time Friday. Steve Clifford said players like Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac would take advantage of extra court time the NBA is providing teams during scrimmage days — especially when the scrimmage is in the afternoon. They were scheduled to do some conditioning and strength work after the game.

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It is not clear if Fultz will play Monday. But he seemed confident that he is making progress to return.

"“I’m actually feeling really good,” Fultz said after Sunday’s practice. “It’s been coming along well. I think that’s why everything is been going so good. I’ve just been pushing myself. I know I have to adapt to being at game speed. I’ve been feeling really good.”"

Clifford said after Saturday’s game he hopes to play a more regular rotation in Monday’s scrimmage. He was still looking to get everyone ample time on the floor and had almost full starting and bench units in Saturday’s scrimmage.

The hope has to be that includes Fultz.

Fultz said he feels healthier than he was after the All-Star Break. He said he was feeling a bit tired from playing those games. He said he thinks he is pretty close to being in the same condition he was when the season went on hiatus. He just has to get back into rhythm.

The Magic certainly need Fultz. They have struggled with their pace some in the first two scrimmages. The team has struggled for long stretches to maintain offensive flow.

Fultz said he has been watching the team and knows team organization will be key to him stepping back in. Making sure players are in the right spot and playing at the right pace will be keys to his return.

It will be a work in progress. Inserting Fultz into the lineup will not be a simple plug and play, no matter what shape or condition Fultz feels he is in.

Searching for their stride

The team is still looking to hit its stride overall as they get used to the environment of playing inside the NBA’s campus.

Both Markelle Fultz and Michael Carter-Williams said the team has discussed coming up with some synchronized cheering or some way to keep the bench more engaged in the game and give energy to the team. They are still finding their way.

They will now have to find their way without a key player for a little while. The Magic’s depth — just like every other team facing an injury — will get tested with Iwundu out for a short time.

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The team likely will look deeper into its bench rather than increasing minutes for other wing players at this point.

That means if Wesley Iwundu misses time, Melvin Frazier, B.J. Johnson or Vic Law will have to step in. Those players have had precious few meaningful minutes in the NBAB.J. Johnson’s run in the win over the Los Angeles Lakers in January is likely the most meaningful NBA minutes any of those three players have played.

Steve Clifford expressed confidence in their ability to step in and help out even as they also try to find their rhythm.

"“I think so much of it is how they practice,” Clifford said after practice Sunday. “All three of those guys — Melvin has spent more time with us than the other two — they are good practice players. They are good workers. They have a good idea of what we are doing. Having the chance to play, although it has been somewhat limited minutes, in these scrimmages has been good for them also.”"

Carter-Williams said everyone has faith in them too. But everyone will have to pull together to help each other as they still try to get into rhythm.

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The team is still looking to hit its stride. It is still coming together to get ready. But pretty soon the games will count again.