The Orlando Magic are still going through their paces as they try to regain their rhythm and get ready for the regular season in one week.
The Orlando Magic know what the calendar says.
On Dec. 23, they will open their season at the Amway Center against the Miami Heat. That gives them now less than a week to prepare for the start of the regular season — and just two preseason games including Thursday and Saturday’s matchup with the Charlotte Hornets.
If there is a sense of urgency to get ready, it is the same sense of urgency that everyone around the league is feeling. The season is starting whether everyone is ready or not.
The hope is, especially after a disappointing effort Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic are trending back in a better direction as the year begins.
"“You do as much as you can and make the best decisions,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Wednesday. “Everybody else is in the same boat. It’s not like other teams started a week before us. It’s fair and we’ll find out where we are at when we start playing for real.”"
While there is a lot of work to do for the Magic, the team is chiefly concerned with getting themselves fit for the season ahead after the odd preseason.
Clifford said the Magic have been erring on the side of playing, trying to help players regain rhythm after the short turnaround to the season and the abbreviated preseason. That means the Magic may not have their full offense and defensive schemes installed at the beginning of the season.
Clifford said the team is using this time to experiment with some lineups. But that has come more in practice than in the preseason games to this point. The Magic are just trying to put themselves in the best position to be ready for the season.
And so, for now, that means making sure the team is playing and getting its work in on the court competing to regain their rhythm. Orlando still wants to put in a better effort on the court and still stick to their overarching principles.
"“I think we need to keep getting better each game and each day in practice,” Michael Carter-Williams said after practice on Wednesday. “Just keep moving forward. I think each day we are getting better and getting more comfortable with each other. We’re ready to go, I think. We’re practicing like it’s our first game. We’re just getting better each day, we’re working hard and doing all the things we need to do to be successful this season.”"
The Magic are also inching closer to getting healthier, a welcome sign as the season gets set to begin.
Terrence Ross returned to practice on Tuesday and felt no effects to practice again Wednesday. He possibly could play Thursday or Saturday. It is looking more likely Ross will return this weekend.
He is jumping right back into the thick of things.
"“My wind feels great actually,” Terrence Ross said after practice Wednesday. “I caught my second wind really early. I was able to go up and down and run up all over the place and be my normal self. I surprisingly feel great right now. I feel right back in the rhythm of things.”"
The bigger news came after the media session ended.
Josh Robbins of The Athletic reported Mohamed Bamba was cleared for physical contact and should be rejoining the Magic in practice soon — although it does not seem likely he will be ready to play before the season begins.
The Magic also picked up the fourth-year team option on Bamba’s rookie contract, keeping him on the team for the 2022 season and setting him up for restricted free agency that summer.
Additionally, Steve Clifford said James Ennis is feeling better, but the team wants to remain cautious so the injury does not reoccur. Ennis was kicked in the shin during a practice last week and was held out of the team’s games against Atlanta. So Ennis is not practicing with the team yet.
It is good to have all three of these key rotation players back on the floor.
That will make the Magic’s puzzle more complete and, at least before the season, gives the team a better picture of what they will look like.
Undoubtedly, there is a lot to clean up. And while the Magic feel like they are on track, they saw plenty of signs of how much work they still have to do.
"“We’re just working hard to be prepared for game one,” Carter-Williams said after practice Wednesday. “I think we’re doing a good job of that. I think we’re on pace to be ahead of where we were last year. We kind of know what to expect going in. We’ve had a little bit of a rocky start. But we want to come out this year gelling and doing what we have to do to have a good start to the season.”"
Carter-Williams said he felt the team needed to pick up its intensity on defense from Sunday’s game. The team was too late getting to its spots in Sunday’s game and that drained the team plenty. On the offensive end, he said the second unit struggled especially with its spacing, partly a product of so many new players in the second unit.
The focus for Thursday’s game is to fix the things they can fix — their intensity and being in a better position defensively. That certainly would be a good start.
The organization will come after that as the team gets more work together on the court and they get into a better rhythm.
"“Just trying to get better is the bigger thing,” Ross said after practice Wednesday. “Just trying to make sure we all take the proper steps and make sure we improve from the last game. We don’t want to have any more disappointing games like that. We’re all trying to get better with each game.”"
Time is indeed running short as the Magic prepare for the season. The games are going to start soon. And the progress the team is making will need to turn into results very quickly.
The clock is ticking as each day and opportunity passes before the season starts.