Everything is different for Orlando Magic’s first road trip

Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic are embarking on their first road trip of what should be a strange season. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic are embarking on their first road trip of what should be a strange season. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are not just getting a run-through for their first games of the preseason. They are also taking their first road trip of this season.

The Orlando Magic rolled up to their hangar at Orlando International Airport for the first time Thursday afternoon, preparing to embark on their first road trip in a season that will surely carry a few firsts and a ton of uncertainty.

This is life as a professional athlete in the midst of a pandemic. And this first road trip is going to bring a lot of nervous energy and firsts for the team as they get used to what their lives will be like throughout the course of the season — assuming the season goes off without a hitch.

Everything is indeed different.

Teams are not likely to do shootaround inside the host arenas — the Magic will not even though coach Steve Clifford prefers that they do. Player sitting and meals on the team plane will be handled differently. The team will charter more buses to carry the team from the plane to the hotel and to the arena to ensure social distancing.

The league handed out a nearly 200-page guideline for players on how to conduct themselves on the road that includes warnings to avoid other guests in the hotels they are staying at and guidelines for eating out on the road.

"“With the protocol, there are so many rules I haven’t memorized all of them,” Markelle Fultz said after practice Thursday. “I know the most important ones. It’s going to be an adjustment. I think patience is key. But being safe — wearing a mask, social distancing, just trying to follow as many rules — and if I have any rules we have a lot of resources around to ask questions.”"

Many of these games will be played in largely empty stadiums, creating perhaps new site lines and issues as teams adjust to their new surroundings. Everything will feel a bit different.

Teams have to create their own energy once again as they did in the bubble. There will be some fans in some arenas — the Orlando Magic have yet to finalize their plans to welcome fans into the Amway Center, but that appears to be in the works before Thursday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets — but it will not be like playing in a full building.

Clifford said the scrimmages inside the bubble helped the team get adjusted to the environment. By the end of it having the video boards with fans proved to help he said as the team tried to create energy within games.

There is the potential some teams may be trying to have fans log in with video boards like they did in the bubble.

Clifford said the team has had a call with the NBA where they displayed photos of the different ways teams are setting things up in their arenas. But it will still be a huge adjustment for players.

It is not so much the empty gyms that concern Clifford as teams prepare to play on the road (or at home). It is the environment that gets created and trying to find energy that will matter for success.

"“The one thing I would say is when people talk about these guys: is it important, for instance, to do shootaround on the other team’s court? The way guys grow up now where they play in so many different facilities as 9th, 10th, 11th graders, they travel all over the country, they play in these little gyms, big gyms,” coach Steve Clifford said before the team traveled Thursday. “That part of it for them is not as big a deal. I think it’s more the environment.”"

These four games will be as much as practicing protocols and environment as much as it is getting on the floor. These are dry runs for when the games count.

And like every preseason, the final result likely matters less than the actual practice and test teams get playing preseason games.

The ultimate goal in a preseason game is to get through it healthy and to show some improvement throughout the course of the preseason. A slow ramping up to the regular season beginning.

"“We’re going to treat these games like practices,” Clifford said after practice Thursday. “I hope we win. Especially this year, I just want to get better.”"

This year comes the added bonus of teams trying to get back to playing after so long off — in some cases nine months, in other cases just four. This offseason was shortened but players did not have full access to gyms.

For everyone, there is trepidation about what the season and travel and all that will look like. But there is also just the excitement to play again.

At some point, everything will become normal and players will get back into their routines.

"“It’s super exciting just to be able to play basketball again, especially where I came from,” Markelle Fultz said after practice Thursday. “I’m talking to the guys, everyone is super excited to compete against somebody else and play the game that we love.”"

Next. Steve Clifford must optimize Magic's offense. dark

At the end of the day, the teams can only control what they can control. And basketball will prove a reprieve and an escape for everyone watching.