Lessons From Europe: How their hiatus gives Orlando Magic hope

A tifo is pictured before the French L1 football match Olympique Lyonnais (OL) vs AS Saint-Etienne (ASSE) on March 1, 2020 at the Groupama stadium in Decines-Charpieu, central-eastern France. (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP) (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD/AFP via Getty Images)
A tifo is pictured before the French L1 football match Olympique Lyonnais (OL) vs AS Saint-Etienne (ASSE) on March 1, 2020 at the Groupama stadium in Decines-Charpieu, central-eastern France. (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP) (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD/AFP via Getty Images) /

Long before the NBA restart got underway, European sports had returned from their own hiatus and many of the subsequent upsets may be something the Orlando Magic can take inspiration from.

Outside of the United States, soccer and basketball are the world’s most popular sports.

And the same can be said of Europe. A continent where even the smallest of countries have the most elaborate of competitions and where rivalries like those between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics seem almost insignificant when viewed against centuries-old “derbies” between European clubs.

So it made sense that the second the pandemic was under control (which occurred much quicker in Europe than in the U.S.), the first thing these nations did was get their own leagues underway.

In many ways, what happened in these leagues was a potential preview of how the NBA and other leagues might work when they returned in the U.S. What we saw in European leagues with upsets galore and surprise finishes was a sign of things to come.

After the Orlando Magic took Game 1 of their series with the Milwaukee Bucks — followed quickly by the Portland Trail Blazers defeating the Los Angeles Lakers, it felt like the league would be ripe for upsets. Indeed, as we get deeper into the playoffs the gap between teams may narrow without home-court advantage to sway outcomes.

Similar upsets have played out throughout the world.

Return to play

Spain’s premier soccer league, La Liga, had to shut shop as their country battled one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19. When the situation seemed even slightly under control, plans to restart the league in this soccer-manic nation were already underway.

Taking place in stadiums with 90,000 empty seats, Real Madrid CF entered the restart trailing arch-rivals FC Barcelona by two points in the standings and with 11 games left to play (wins are worth three points and ties one point in soccer).

Having lost matches just before the break to let FC Barcelona’s grasp on first place slip, Real Madrid’s captain Sergio Ramos insisted they were going to approach each upcoming match like a final. And that is what they did.

Going in with the odds against them, Real Madrid dominated nearly every aspect of the games they played and fought tooth and nail for every inch of space they could find from the first minute to the last.

Regardless of whether the flow of the game was with them or against, it was obvious every ounce of energy was being spent by each and every player. They went on to win 10 straight and seal their title with a game in hand.

This relentless approach is what has been lacking for the Orlando Magic, whose lack of concentration for tip-off until the final whistle is what has often led them to throw away games in the span of a single quarter.

The Barcelona team Real Madrid was up against had claimed La Liga as their own, winning four of the last five titles. Even though Madrid had dominated the European scene, becoming the first team to win three straight UEFA Champions League titles, they often struggled to replicate that success in their domestic competition.

On top of this, Madrid’s championship triumph was not just down to them playing like they were invincible.

The Magic may not be as closely matched as Real Madrid is to Barcelona, but that does not mean that they will not get any chances to steal games from the Milwaukee Bucks. When these opportunities, however rare, do strike, they need to be ready to attack unforgivingly and scrape themselves into this tie against the top seed Bucks.

Orlando has struggled since that Game 1 win to match Milwaukee’s aggression and stay on the front foot. The Magic have had to play from behind and that has only dug them a deeper and deeper hole.

After the conclusion of their La Liga season, Real Madrid headed to the aforementioned UEFA Champions League, a league pitting the best teams from across Europe in a tournament setting You would think that a team that was a year removed from winning this title three times would be favored to win it all.

But they were not. They ended up losing to England’s Manchester City 2-1. It was a major upset. That marked the end of Madrid’s season but not of the trend of underdogs toppling odds-on teams.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the greatest to ever play the game, led his Juventus side (Nikola Vucevic’s favorite team) into their match against the French Olympique Lyonnais. Juventus went into the game with a one-goal deficit (knockout rounds are determined by a two-game aggregate score).

Juventus were still favorites to win, but two goals from Ronaldo himself were not enough to carry his team to the next stage. Lyon then went on to the quarterfinals, where they were to meet the aforementioned Manchester City.

The Champions League final is Sunday between Paris St. Germain and Bayern Munich, hardly the final anyone believed would occur when the season began.

Upsets were the story of these leagues as they came back from hiatus.

Cash is the difference

There is a difference. The Orlando Magic scoring an upset in the same way as these European teams is a bit more far-fetched. After all, the teams described here are the best teams in their respective leagues.

A lot of these teams pay for top-end players and soccer can sometimes play to fluky results. The Magic, as everyone understands, do not have one of those top-end players.

Still, even in this context, the Champions League saw some massive upsets.

For context as to how one-sided this tie was meant to be, the aggregate values of player contracts for the Olympique Lyon side was a modest €350 million (roughly $413 million), according to transfermarkt.com. Manchester City on the other hand had a valuation of €1.07 billion ($1.3 billion), the most valuable squad in all of Europe.

Live Feed

Bayern Munich: Alphonso Davies becomes priority target for Real Madrid
Bayern Munich: Alphonso Davies becomes priority target for Real Madrid /

Bayern Strikes

  • Bayern Munich: Leroy Sane enjoying playing in current systemBayern Strikes
  • Yann Sommer satisfied with short stint at Bayern MunichBayern Strikes
  • Bayern Munich: Harry Kane makes top European listBayern Strikes
  • Bayern Munich: Jan-Christian Dreesen pleased with summer businessBayern Strikes
  • Bayern Munich: Joshua Kimmich handed leadership role in German squadBayern Strikes
  • Regardless of the seemingly insurmountable odds, Lyon led by a goal until City equalized to bring the score to 1-1. The last 12 minutes saw Lyon score two more times and knock the betting favorites out of the cup.

    These may seem like routine outliers in this unpredictable world of sports, yet these are not just singular case studies but the new normal.

    The same week the storied Atletico Madrid lost to RB Leipzig, a German club founded as recently as 2009, Lionel Messi’s Barcelona, having just lost the La Liga title to Real Madrid, lost their match 8-2 to FC Bayern Munich, suffering their worst defeat in almost 50 years.

    Paris Saint-Germain, led by Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, trailed relative minnows from Italy, Atalanta 1-0, until the final minute of regular time. They went on to win 2-1 to reach the final.

    These fixtures proved one thing: Regardless of the number of warm-up games these teams had, anything could happen.

    Most teams had to complete their leagues before arriving at international competition. Meaning, they had ample time to reach peak form and compete for Europe’s ultimate club crown, yet this new normal did not provide any assurances to any teams.

    For the first time in 15 years, the semifinal stage of the competition did not feature either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. It is also the first time ever the semifinals was played without an English or a Spanish team. All because of the unpredictability this hiatus has brought.

    The Magic are underdogs by every measure. But so were the innumerous teams that pulled off the many upsets in this year’s Champions League alone.

    The Magic should take pride in the fact they have the opportunity to compete against the best basketball team in the world, and they should respect their opportunity by competing at the highest level throughout their series against the Bucks.

    The Magic remain down just 2-1 and one game can change the entire tenor of this series. An upset is still possible.

    Next. Orlando Magic's long-term future takes hit without Mohamed Bamba. dark

    Lyon, Atalanta and Leipzig proved you do not need to have the best team to win, and the Magic should know the same.