While the NBA is celebrating its Summer League and getting its first real look at the rookies throughout the league, everyone is starting to eye the 2023 season.
It is not too difficult to think about what is coming down the road and look ahead to October and November — just read all the excitement after Anthony Black’s strong debut.
The NBA is looking ahead too. It announced the format and groups for the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament on Saturday.
And the Orlando Magic find themselves in a favorable group.
The Orlando Magic will get a chance to be a surprise team in the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament with a favorable draw that will give them real pressure-game experience early next season.
The Orlando Magic will be in Eastern Conference Group C alongside the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors as the teams battle for a spot in the quarterfinal round.
The Magic will play four games — two home (against Boston and Toronto) and two away (against Chicago and Brooklyn) — against each of these teams throughout November. The league has designated Tuesdays and Fridays as “tournament days” throughout November all leading up to the semifinals and finals in Las Vegas on Dec. 7 and 9.
Except for the championship game of the tournament, the other games will be accounted for in the regular season schedule and count toward the 82-game season.
The top team in each group and the second-place team with the best record will advance to the single elimination quarterfinals leading to the tournament final for the NBA Cup.
To say the least, the Magic got a really fortunate group as one of the teams on the rise in the league. They certainly will get to take advantage of being one of the teams grouped with the bottom three teams
The Celtics are the heavy favorites to win this group still with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown still in the mix. But all four other teams arguably got worse this offseason or had disappointing seasons last year.
The Magic are veritably the only team on the rise.
The Bulls and Raptors are coming off disappointing seasons that saw both qualify for the 9/10 Play-In Tournament game.
Chicago still has Nikola Vucevic, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan for some veritable star power, which will always be valuable for a single elimination tournament. And each one of these games will feel like a single-elimination tournament.
The Raptors are also a team in flux. While they still have Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, they lost Fred VanVleet in free agency and will be working under a new coach with Adrian Griffin.
Orlando certainly has its own share of questions. But the team is certainly very focused on getting off to a better start — something Cole Anthony mentioned in his in-game interview during Saturday’s Summer League game — believing the team’s 5-20 stumble out of the gates cost it a chance of shocking the league and making the Play-In Tournament.
The Magic certainly have some ambition to make the playoffs. And they should be as dialed in as any team to make the most of this opportunity.
And the path seems very open for the Magic to have success.
Getting the group favorite at the Amway Center, even with the sometimes heavy Celtics presence there, is a boost for a young team that could be a surprise team in this tournament.
Nobody is still quite sure how invested some of these teams will be for these games. Certainly, the early games may feel like regular season games as teams still get into the swing of things. But these are still supreme competitors. As the games get tight and more meaningful, everyone is going to up their competition.
Orlando is focused on bettering its potential of making the postseason next year for sure. Even if management will not talk about it, the players all believe they are on the cusp of making the postseason.
But the thing they lack is experience. They have never played pressure games before. They have never been in a do-or-die situation.
The In-Season Tournament creates a situation where the Magic can simulate playoff focus (if not outright playoff intensity) for their young team and put them under real pressure.
Especially if the Magic advance to the knockout round, the experience of preparing for and playing in pressure games through the course of the season will be a good one for a team that is likely going to be fighting for a postseason opportunity in April.
That is something no coach can simulate, even though Jamahl Mosley has already been splicing playoff clips and talking about and preparing his team for the potential to make the Playoffs.
Giving the team the chance to not only feel this pressure situation but potentially succeed with one upset of the Celtics — a team the Magic beat three times last season — is a confidence boost that could lead to a special season.
This is something the In-Season Tournament is certainly open to providing. It could be an avenue for a young team to make a name for itself and announce itself at least on a medium stage as the team gets ready for the rest of the season.
This is not an opportunity a team like the Magic should pass up. They should view this as a chance to get real practice playing meaningful, pressure-packed games and an early chance to see what holes they have in these kinds of big games.
That is a big part of what this season is about.
The fact the Magic seemingly have an easier or more manageable path to advance only adds to the opportunity this young team should take advantage of.