Orlando Magic aim to finish strong with the Milwaukee Bucks in mind

The Orlando Magic are finishing the seeding round with the Milwaukee Bucks in the back of their heads. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic are finishing the seeding round with the Milwaukee Bucks in the back of their heads. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic know their playoff opponent in the Milwaukee Bucks and have a full week to prepare. Finishing the seeding round strong is part of that.

By the time the NBA schedule ended Sunday, the Orlando Magic knew their fate for the playoffs.

The top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks will be waiting for them when the postseason begins next Monday. There are no seedings to gain or places to climb anymore. There is only this inevitable meeting when the league kicks off the postseason.

In a way, Orlando has always had this matchup on its mind. It at least knew not to waste time and be prepared for this possibility.

Coach Steve Clifford had a lot of time to prepare for the resumption of the season. While the Magic have flailed a bit, going 2-4 in the bubble with four losses to playoff teams, he spent the time studying his own team and trying to find ways to tweak and get them ready to play. Even in the offseason he likely did not have a full idea of how much work it would take to get the team ready to play again.

The other thing Clifford did besides watching his own team was to begin to study the teams the Magic might face. He had his coaches begin reviewing film on the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.

With a week before the playoffs, the Magic will have plenty of time to begin thinking about how they will attack the Bucks. The time will give them one advantage: They will be able to have their staff back in the Amway Center prepare and send the vaunted “Playoff Book” to the team well before the season ends.

Orlando can at least get a jump start on preparing for the postseason and a daunting opponent. Not that Milwaukee will not have that advantage too.

But even with an eye on the postseason, there is still work to do. The Magic have two more games and plenty to work on themselves.

The goal will be to get ready for the playoffs — including getting healthy after an injury-filled week inside the campus — but they also want to sharpen their game and build good habits.

“These last two games, not that they are must-wins or anything, you can’t just say the night before you start, we’re going to play better tomorrow,” Clifford said after practice Monday. “It is still about developing habits and discipline to play so you can function in this league. Our guys know that.”

After a four-game losing streak, the Magic certainly could use a shot of confidence and to prove they have learned from some of the mistakes that cost them in those games. Orlando still has things to clean up and wants to make some progress heading into the postseason.

Clifford said the team focused mostly on itself during practice Monday. The team reviewed tape from Sunday’s loss to the Boston Celtics. They will go over their gameplan against the Brooklyn Nets during Monday morning’s shootaround before the 1 p.m. tip-off.

Clifford said he mentioned the Bucks during the practice, however. The team certainly recognizes the challenge waiting for them when the playoffs begin. It is still in the back of their minds even as they finish this season.

But the team still wants to make the most of these final two games to get themselves right for the postseason.

A lot of that puzzle is getting players healthy.

Terrence Ross left the campus Monday to undergo offsite testing on an undisclosed medical issue. Clifford said he left on the advice of the NBA’s physician inside the bubble.

It is not clear when he will be able to return — excused absences from the campus require a four-day quarantine upon re-entry. He has already been ruled out for Tuesday’s game.

Ross posted on Instagram at around 8 p.m. on Monday night that he was all good.

The Magic are still without Aaron Gordon, Michael Carter-Williams and Evan Fournier. They are all listed as doubtful for Tuesday’s game.

Clifford said Carter-Williams participated in some of the team’s practice Monday while Gordon and Fournier sat out. It was not a physical practice anyway with such a tight turnaround before the next game. He added Gordon and Fournier remain diligent on trying to get back and doing their work to be ready.

They remain day-to-day officially.

Orlando certainly would like to see them get some game action to regain some rhythm at game speed before the playoffs begin. But Clifford said after practice Saturday the team’s priority is to be as close to 100-percent as they can entering the postseason.

"“It’s tricky because of the fact that guys need minutes,” Clifford said after practice Monday. “To me, guys are still getting into rhythm. Last night was good for a bunch of people. It is definitely hurting our chemistry in terms of guys playing with their playing groups. But that’s the way our league works. Injuries are a part of it. I actually think the guys are handling it well.”"

The Magic will still play out these final two games. And there is still a desire to win. But the urgency and the importance of iwnning is lesser now with everything locked up.

The Nets, having locked up the 7-seed are also worrying about getting healthy too. They have ruled Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Garrett Temple out for Tuesday’s game. Brooklyn will be without four of its top six scorers since the restart.

That should not make things any easier for the Magic. Orlando will still have to execute and be on its game to earn the win.

The Magic may also decide to scale back minutes for starters, treating this game more like the scrimmages. But it is clear Orlando wants to get its work in and get some confidence heading into the postseason.

Orlando is not skipping out on these two games.

"“Moving forward, we still have two games left,” D.J. Augustin said after practice Monday. “We want to keep trying to get better and use these games to get into a rhythm and work on our good habits. At the end of the day, we’re pretty soon going to start working on Milwaukee and getting ready for the Playoffs.”"

Orlando perhaps will try out some different strategies in preparation for Milwaukee in the course of these games. Tweaks might start to appear during games. The final two games could be some extended trial balloons for the postseason. Slowly everything will start gearing toward the postseason.

But most importantly, the Magic will try to get to next week fully healthy and intact. And hopefully back in rhythm.

There will be preparation and study to occur in practices in the run-up to the playoffs — the Orlando Magic close the seeding round Thursday night at 9 p.m. against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Next. Orlando Magic are playoff bound, but they didn't play their way in this time. dark

Those playoff books will arrive early. And the team will be able to prepare the video clips coaches will show to players ready and refined before playoff prep really begins Friday.