The Orlando Magic had high hopes at the start of the season’s restart. But injuries cast a dark shadow on a hopeful team as they struggled for consistency.
The Orlando Magic were off to an auspicious start in the bubble, winning their first two games by double digits.
Outside of Al-Farouq Aminu, they had essentially their full squad available for the bubble play. They carried over their offensive surge from before the season shut down and seemed poise to make gains heading into the postseason.
They defeated the Brooklyn Nets to open seeding round play and everything seemed set for their success and to make the most of the resumption of the season.
However, one calamitous event after another has befallen the Magic. The resumption of play for the Magic has not been a celebration of finishing a season strong. It has been about taking one body blow after another.
Injuries were the story during the regular season. Injuries remain the story inside the bubble, keeping the Magic from reaching their full potential.
Jonathan Issac suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee going in for a layup in the second half of a blowout win against the Sacramento Kings. He went from being a key cog in the Magic’s playoff push to leaving the bubble to have surgery. Not only will he miss the rest of the NBA restart, but he is likely out for all of next season too.
From there, Aaron Gordon suffered a hamstring injury in the fourth game of the restart against the juggernaut Toronto Raptors after a hard foul from noted pest Kyle Lowry while attempting to throw down a slam dunk.
This has kept him out of the last four games and means he will be relatively rusty when he returns for the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks after approximately two weeks away from playing. Gordon seemed certain he would be ready, but that might be bluster and confidence more than a medical diagnosis.
To exacerbate matters, reliable backup combo guard Michael Carter Williams suffered a tendon sprain in his left foot and there is no unequivocal timetable for his return. Coach Steve Clifford has not given a clear timeline for his return either.
Evan Fournier has missed the last three games with a non-COVID-related illness. He said he was not able to do much basketball activity while dealing with the illness, although he has still attended games. It was good to see the Magic’s television broadcast showing him going through a pregame workout.
Terrence Ross too had to miss the final two games of the seeding round after leaving the campus for further tests after he said he experienced chest pains. Doctors off-site found nothing wrong with him after a battery of tests. He is set to clear quarantine Saturday.
There is plenty of optimism that all four will be ready to play for Game 1 on Tuesday.
As if that is not enough, Mohamed Bamba, who had his fair share of struggles since the season resumed while still recuperating from COVID-19, left the campus to undergo a more thorough evaluation of his post-virus symptoms.
The Magic have had to make due with a solid group of players like Nikola Vucevic, D.J. Augustin, Markelle Fultz, Khem Birch, Wesley Iwundu and James Ennis. Even their coach had to admit this was not ideal.
It is a nice core, but not anywhere near enough firepower. And that proved itself through the five-game losing streak that left the Magic settling for eighth. Orlando scrambled to get one more win after the Isaac injury to finish 3-5.
They did not exactly pose a baleful figure during their five-game losing streak. Only two of those losses were by single digits and one was a game they completely gave away against the Boston Celtics.
The other close game, the Philadelphia 76ers simply outlasted them behind Joel Embiid, his star power snuffing out any embers of effort form the undermanned Orlando Magic. The Magic outplayed the 76ers for the first three quarters and played admirably on the defensive end. The post defense against Embiid was an issue all night.
Compounded by the Magic’s inability to hit shots in crunch time, especially from outside the paint with threes and deep twos spelled their demise. Ross had to put the loss on himself after an 0-for-10 performance.
That losing stretch was extremely disappointing. It was easy to see that.
But the team still wants to make something of the rest of their season. They want to, as Clifford puts it, play in a manner where they can make noise in the postseason. It has been nearly impossible to do that with all the injuries they have faced.
Even the normally stern Clifford said the team has generally fought hard — except for the loss to the Brooklyn Nets — and worked hard during their time inside the campus. Their record certainly suggests some fundamental flaws.
To succeed in the first round, Orlando needs Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross at least.
At least there is a silver lining, mixed hopefully with some light royal blue.
They finally got back in the win column against the New Orleans Pelicans. That little confidence boost could go a long way. Just seeing the ball go into the basket easily was encouraging.
Not to mention everyone who played made it out of the game healthy with the Magic’s missing players seemingly ready to return.
Obviously, it would be nice to get back on track against a full squad for a team that has something to play for. But this could be a fortuitous sign that helps Orlando regain their confidence.
Seven players scored in double figures, they hit a very impressive share of shots from behind the arc — including a franchise-record-tying 13 in the first half — at just better than 53 percent, won the turnover battle and led by as many as 22 points.
Now is this an anomaly or can this provide them the momentum to carry them into a tough series against the likes of Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo? No one should confuse a win over a Pelicans team that was missing its best players with their season all but over.
Only time will tell, but Orlando needs to get healthy and develop a rhythm to show that they can handle the mean streets of Milwaukee.
These past eight games have been full of injuries and frustration. The Magic have not really been able to get started — or restarted.
The playoffs hopefully will see the Magic regain some of that health so they can take the steps they wanted to take back in October.