Orlando Magic see the light at the end of the injury tunnel

Paolo Banchero has helped begin to redefine the Orlando Magic's offensive identity. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero has helped begin to redefine the Orlando Magic's offensive identity. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Paolo Banchero had to sit and wait during the Orlando Magic’s recent road trip.

He along with the still rather large number of injured players on this team stayed home to get some extra recovery and treatment time in the AdventHealth Training Center. They were not with the team on their quick three-game trip to Chicago and Indianapolis.

This has been a frustrating image from this team and from this season. The hope and promise of what is left on the bench in street clothes that is not on the court wearing a Magic uniform. Everyone has just been waiting.

Banchero could not even get a good live feed of the Orlando Magic’s stunning win over the Chicago Bulls, relying on the NBA app’s stream which was behind ESPN updates he was getting on another screen.

The moment was still as exhilarating even with knowing the result. But clearly, Banchero would have preferred to be in the United Center and on the court.

The Magic certainly miss him.

That time is clearly coming soon. And Banchero could very well have some friends rejoining him on the court when that happens.

Paolo Banchero, Markelle Fultz and Moe Wagner participated in practice Wednesday for the Orlando Magic. Their imminent returns signal the end of the Magic’s injury struggles is coming soon.

Banchero will remain day-to-day with his left ankle sprain and whether he will be available for Friday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers will be determined based on how he responds to his return to practice (and an extra day off for Thanksgiving). But he, along with Markelle Fultz and Moe Wagner were able to get into practice on Wednesday, signaling all three could be returning soon.

"“I’m feeling good,” Banchero said after practice Wednesday. “It was good just to get back. It’s been a while, a lot of observing. I’m just happy to be out there. I’ve just got to be patient. It’s my first time dealing with injuries. At first, I wanted to rush as quickly as possible trying to get back. I realized that wasn’t doing any good for me. I’m trying to learn to be patient and continue to be patient and listen to myself.”"

Banchero said he spent most of his time during the road trip working on strength and conditioning and not as much time on the court. Mosley said Banchero looked like a player who had been out for a week during practice. The concern is about rebuilding his conditioning which will only come with time and playing.

That is the concern with all the Magic’s injured players and often the part that takes the longest after recovery. Orlando continually wants to be sure players are back for good when they step onto the court.

But the vibes inside the AdventHealth Training Center were good.

The team seemed to be re-energized just to be back in practice. Adding all those missing players — even if Wagner and Fultz may need a little more time to get back into the fold after missing the season so far — seemed to give the team a bit of new life.

It does indeed feel a bit like a light at the end of the tunnel for a team that has been dealing with injuries from the start of the season.

Jalen Suggs, dealing with his own ankle issues which appear to be fine as he “grittied” behind the media while coach Jamahl Mosley was updating his injury status, said it was a relief to have Moe Wagner back talking trash and bringing his physicality and energy to practices again. Even that refreshed energy helped the team intensify practice and get some positive work in.

This was an element the team had been missing just not able to go hard in practice.

As much as the team does not want to use them as an excuse, the injuries have been a lot for this team to handle.

"“It’s great. It didn’t even feel real when everybody went down just like that,” Suggs said after practice Wednesday. “It felt like every other day somebody was out. It wasn’t a day-to-day. It was great to see them moving and feeling better. It’s nice to have them back around, back moving and just get that vibe of normalcy back.”"

The injury questions do not subside.

Nobody is officially back and the Magic will still have lingering injuries with Wendell Carter (planta fascia strain) and Chuma Okeke (left knee soreness). Orlando will not issue an injury report until Thursday ahead of Friday’s game against Philadelphia.

But a three-day break between games gave the Magic not just the chance to get guys back from injury but have that real practice to work on things and improve.

It was a relief for the team to have more bodies and to get a hard practice in — something this team has not been able to do as often this year because of the nature of the schedule and the team’s managing of the workload from the healthy players — and get some real work to improve.

The team still has a lot to work on. And this was an opportunity to get themselves going and begin to evaluate the roster fully.

"“Just being able to get a fair assessment of what we’re capable of doing,” Mosley said after practice Wednesday. “We aren’t able to do that yet fully because you don’t have a fully healthy roster. Having these guys in practice, you can evaluate more things, you can evaluate different sets, different options, how guys play with each other. The more we can do that, the more we will be able to evaluate how these guys can play.”"

Injuries have interrupted that critical evaluating process. Let alone interrupted the team’s ability to improve and grow.

Orlando has had to keep everything held together as tightly as they could. It has led to some discoveries and pushed players into roles they were not always ready for.

There is value in that too.

But everyone can see the Magic are missing a lot and needed some of these players out there. They needed health more than anything else to improve.

That time is coming. Slowly but surely.

"“We know the time is coming when we are all going to be back and all going to be playing,” Banchero said after practice Wednesday. “We know that’s coming. We don’t want to rush it. You don’t want to look too far ahead. You want to stay in the moment. But it was definitely good seeing Gary out there. He’s been playing really good. And then Markelle getting into practice and moving full speed is good to see it.”"

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It is definitely good to see. There is just the final waiting game for all the pieces of the puzzle to come together at last.