5 questions the Orlando Magic must answer in the second quarter of the 2024 season

The Orlando Magic got out to a blazing start to their season. There are still some big challenges ahead. Now that they have established themselves, everyone will be watching what happens in the second quarter of the season.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic have announced themselves through the first quarter of the season. The second quarter will be a big challenge for the team to maintain its momentum.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic have announced themselves through the first quarter of the season. The second quarter will be a big challenge for the team to maintain its momentum. / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic could not have dreamed of a better start to the season.

When the schedule came out, there were a lot of concerns about banking enough wins to survive a difficult middle part of the schedule and just get to the seemingly favorable schedule that waited for them at the end of the season after the All-Star Break.

Everyone knew the Magic would need to lean on their continuity and get out to a fast start to have a chance this season.

But this? This kind of a start?

A 15-6 record through the first quarter of the season (now 16-9)? Sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference? A franchise-record-tying nine-game winning streak? The potential for two All-Stars? The second-best defense in the entire league?

What are you even supposed to do with your hands in this situation?

The Magic are one of the best stories in the NBA through the first part of the season. They have captured at least some passing national attention.

Now everyone just wants to know: Is this real? Are the Magic not just a rising team for the future but a team for now? Does this group have staying power?

It seems that racing out to this kind of a start only brings up more questions than answers, especially with a little less than 60 more games to play. A lot can still happen.

Certainly, the expectation is the Magic will lag off. They will hit a rough patch at some point. And while a lot of the current power rankings have finally moved the Magic into their top 10 and admitted there is something permanent about the way the team is playing, no one is ready to call them title contenders yet.

There is still a lot of work to do this year and a lot of questions for the team to answer.

And that is what the next 20 games will continue to answer. As the Magic head toward the midpoint of the season, their ability to find consistency and keep pace at the top of the standings will be tested.

There will be returns from injury that could potentially disrupt the chemistry the team has built but ultimately improve the team. There will be a challenging schedule that will see the Magic cycle through the best teams in the Eastern Conference (and virtually no Western Conference teams besides the road trip in early January after a West-heavy schedule to start the season).

And that does not even get into the trade deadline and the potential that brings both to change the roster and improve it for a potential playoff run.

A lot of the team's season will get defined over the next 20 games. Is this group merely just a playoff team or is this a team knocking on the door of true contention?

More than anything else, these next 20 games are a fight for permanence and critical for the team's next steps. There are a lot of questions the team is going to answer very quickly.

5 questions for the second quarter of the Orlando Magic's 2024 season

How do the Orlando Magic integrate Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz back?

The most amazing thing about the Orlando Magic's run to start this season is that the team has largely done it without two starters.

Unlike last year when injuries completely derailed the team's season before it even started with a 5-20 start, the team has been able to rally with both Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz out with injuries.

Fultz has played one game since Nov. 2 when he first missed a game with left knee tendinitis. Carter injured his left hand in that game going up for a rebound to secure the win over the Utah Jazz that night.

Goga Bitadze and Anthony Black have filled in admirably without them. Orlando has obviously found a groove and some rhythm without these two players. But they are both important to this team and will give them a more dynamic attack.

Now both players are set to make their returns very soon. The duo made their return to the team's practices last Wednesday and Thursday. Neither played over the weekend with Fultz going from QUESTIONABLE on Friday to DOUBTFUL for Sunday. Monday is usually Carter's day to visit the doctor.

They are set to return soon nonetheless.

It is hard to get a good sense though of what this team will look like with them.

The Magic's current starting group with Bitadze and Black have a net rating of +6.8 points per 100 possessions with a 111.4/104.6 offensive/defensive rating split in 208 minutes. The starting group with Carter and Fultz has a net rating of +10.4 points per 100 possessions with a 105.4/95.1 offensive/defensive rating split in 78 minutes.

That both says very little -- the sample size with Carter and Fultz is still way too small to draw conclusions -- and says a lot -- such as how the current starting group is solid but has seen some lagging of late with both Black and Bitadze in the game.

Beyond anything else, Fultz and Carter are proven and more dynamic players on both ends of the floor as well as both Bitadze and Black have played. Their returns absolutely should make the team better, even if it takes some time for the team to get back up to speed after both players missed the last month.

How they integrate into that group and just how good they are will go a long way to determining how effective the Magic will be and whether they stay near the top of the Eastern Conference.