Orlando Magic eager to reintegrate players and get back on track

Jalen Suggs is eager to get back on the court as the Orlando Magic slowly becoming healthier. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs is eager to get back on the court as the Orlando Magic slowly becoming healthier. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Jalen Suggs is eager and excited these days. He cannot hide the smile on his face as he ramps back toward playing again. Suggs is not cleared to return for games yet, but Suggs put his timeline as “ASAP.”

That excitement is clear being around Suggs as he looks ahead to that long-awaited return.

Back on the court and practicing with the team after exiting the lineup on Nov. 25 with ankle soreness, Suggs can feel how close he is to his return to the court. The issues with his surgically repaired left ankle that caused him to hit pause and get himself right seem to be behind him. He is just eager to get back on the court.

More importantly, Suggs is eager to get back on the road and back with his teammates. Just as they are eager to have him — and eventually Jonathan Isaac — back with the team. Everyone knows what they have in reserve.

And they all seem eager to get those players back in the fold. No matter how long it takes everyone get back into that necessary rhythm.

The Orlando Magic are starting to get healthier and see their roster on the floor again. That is what two days of practice became about, seeing their team become whole again.

As Suggs put it, he and the team are excited to get back on the floor together and start a postseason push to “go get what’s ours.”

"“When we were on that run, we had a swagger and a confidence,” Suggs said after practice Tuesday. “Now I think going into this new year, getting everybody back being banged up . . . getting that groove back and that mode back and coming into it ready to rock. We’ve shown that it’s possible already. That standard is set. Now it is about matching it every day.”"

Undoubtedly, the Magic have lost some of that mojo, dropping their last three games and all in virtual blowouts and non-competitive games down the stretch. The Orlando Magic’s suspensions coming from the fight last Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons have further depleted and de-energized the team.

But Orlando is searching for that swagger again. All the while doing something necessary but ultimately difficult within their team:  Bringing players back into the fold and regaining some of the consistency the team has lost of late.

That is what the Magic spent a good chunk of their time working on in the last two days. These practices were a bit of a reset in that way for the team as a whole.

The first day of practice Monday was focused on sharpening the team’s foundation and doing some live 5-on-5 action, something extra valuable for a player like Suggs returning from injury. Tuesday’s practice before the team gets back into the grind of the season was about teaching and further shoring things up.

But it was also vital to getting players back fully into the fold.

The Magic will still have one more game before they can fully move past the fight in Detroit last week with Moe Wagner, Franz Wagner, Kevon Harris and Admiral Schofield suspended.

So part of the work the team undertook this week was to get used to playing in different lineups and try to rebuild that key familiarity while getting players back up to speed.

Suggs and Isaac rejoined practice “full go” these past two days (although both have been ruled OUT for Wednesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But the team is also still working Wendell Carter and Gary Harris back into the fold too.

Coach Jamahl Mosley said Monday that neither of those players are fully out of the woods and still working with some restriction. Although he said they are essentially back. It is likely Carter will reclaim his spot in the starting lineup starting with Wednesday’s game.

But even a composed and prepared player like Carter said he is still working himself back into game shape. That is a constant battle.

"“It’s an interesting kind of thing,” Carter said after Monday’s practice. “I was playing really well up until I got hurt. It’s kind of tough because you expect to play just as well. Quite frankly, it’s going to take you a while to get back in the groove. You kind of lost a step, you’ve got to get that step back. It’s definitely more of a mental thing more than anything. Locking in that it’s more about us than me.”"

Coming back and playing off the bench as the Magic have tried to keep up the good play and rotations that helped build that eight wins in nine games stretch while still bringing Carter back was a bit of an adjustment. Carter — and Harris for that matter — have played well, albeit in three games.

Carter is averaging 13.0 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game in 20.9 minutes per game while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor since his return. Harris is averaging 8.3 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from deep since he returned.

They have both shown some rust, but have looked no worse for the wear, even playing in the back-to-back last week.

The team overall has struggled for a number of reasons. But certainly, some of that is the disruption that has come from reintegrating these injured players and giving them the time to get better and back to full health.

"“It’s tough because everyone has their own style of play,” Carter said after practice Monday. “At the same time, I’m also a great basketball player and have a really good IQ for the team. When I’m playing with different players on my team, it’s not really that hard. We all have the same goal in mind. We all just want to win. We all want to score the ball. It doesn’t matter how we get there as long as we score. It’s not really that hard. And then on the defensive side, we have a lot of defensive-minded players and that makes that end a lot easier.”"

Carter echoed what Suggs said about the team. They lost some of their defensive principles and communication. Things just needed to be tightened up. Orlando certainly hopes that is something they accomplished during these days in practice.

Just as important, they hope that these practices inch them back toward the normalcy and that steady rotation and playing groups that helped them build their win streak.

Orlando’s players are going to rediscover that rhythm and flow the more they play. And that is the key for them — for all of them — is to play.

Next. Paolo Banchero goes through his first slump. dark

The team is building itself back up again. And if this “reset” helps them grow and get everyone back, then it will be beneficial as this team finally gets some health.