The Orlando Magic must be resilient no matter what injuries might follow. They have to prove they have what it takes to play with the league’s best.
The Orlando Magic went into the bubble a healthy roster except for Al-Farouq Aminu. Orlando had recovered from the injuries they had dealt with throughout the season and were started on fire.
The Orlando Magic dominated the Brooklyn Nets for most of the first game, building a 30-point lead and ended up winning 128-118. Orlando was clicking offensively and shot 52.9 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three.
The domination continued to the next game against the Sacramento Kings in a game where the Orlando Magic built a 36-point lead in a 132-116 victory while shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from the beyond the arc.
It felt like the Magic were going to cruise to the strong start they hoped for. Something that would help them stake a lead for seventh in the Eastern Conference and then the chance to challenge themselves against some playoff-bound teams.
The trouble started in the fourth quarter against the Kings.
Jonathan Isaac’s torn ACL in the fourth quarter of that blowout win cast a pall over the rest of the game. There was no celebrating the victory. And suddenly the Magic were vulnerable again.
This was a gut-punching blow to a Magic team that started so well.
Then the injury bug kept biting again and again.
The injuries continued as Michael Carter-Williams suffered a tendon strain in his left foot. James Ennis dislocated his ring finger against the Indiana Pacers, returning but struggling to shoot from that point forward.
Mohamed Bamba has been another player seemingly missing in action. Coach Steve Clifford said the roster demotion had nothing to do with his play or trust but was more about his conditioning, especially after gaining 20-plus pounds of muscle during the hiatus.
Bamba revealed Thursday that his struggles with his conditioning are at least in part because of a positive COVID-19 test in June that kept him from returning to the practice facility. A pair of false-positive tests when he entered the campus also kept him in quarantine longer than his teammates.
Then finally, against the Toronto Raptors, Kyle Lowry fouled Aaron Gordon in mid-air, which caused him to land awkwardly. Gordon tried to play through the injury but left the game shortly thereafter.
The Magic diagnosed Gordon with a strained left hamstring after conducting an MRI. He is doubtful for Friday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers and is listed as day-to-day beyond that.
These injuries have piled up and have changed the Magic drastically as they have suffered two blowout losses to the Raptors and Pacers. They have lost all of their rotational power forwards and will rely on Gary Clark for big minutes at power forward.
It has been a lot to overcome for the team. Orlando is a team with a small margin of error and that only shrinks with the more important players they lose to injury. The depth that helped Orlando win those early games is slowly getting depleted.
That is no excuse. The games continue and the Magic still have something to play for.
Orlando cannot continue to lose games in the same fashion as they have the last two games. The Magic have found themselves in holes in the first quarter that are too deep to come out of — 43-22 against the Pacers and 26-11 against the Raptors.
Steve Clifford called the game against the Pacers a mindless and effortless effort by the Magic. It was unacceptable to him. They looked better against the Raptors but struggled to crack their swarming defense.
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Although the Magic have been blown out, the Magic have shown they can compete as they have won the last three quarters in the two losses. They beat Toronto 88-83 and the Pacers 87-77 in the final three quarters in each game.
That is a small silver lining. But the team needs focus and energy from the tip. And that goes double with all the injuries the team is facing. Orlando still has a lot to play for and can compete with these teams.
The Magic still have to reach the goal of the seventh seed. Orlando still finds itself half a game back from Brooklyn and must find a way to compete in these games. Orlando has to fight until they get back Gordon and Carter-Williams.
Once that happens, Orlando must be resilient no matter what injuries might follow. The Magic have to prove they have what it takes to play with the best teams in the league. Their next chance will be against the Philadelphia 76ers who will be without Ben Simmons.
The Magic have a lot to prove, but they have to get back to being gritty and prove that they can compete with the best of the best.