Jalen Suggs eager to embrace the physicality of playoff basketball

Jalen Suggs had to sit out the last two games that felt like the closest the Orlando Magic have seen to playoff intensity. He was lapping it up from the sideline and he is eager to join the fray and physicality of postseason basketball.
Jalen Suggs sat out the last two games. But he is eager to jump back into a more physical style of play as the Orlando Magic approach the playoffs.
Jalen Suggs sat out the last two games. But he is eager to jump back into a more physical style of play as the Orlando Magic approach the playoffs. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Suggs is always seemingly on his toes. He is eager to inject himself into anything. He feels like he never wants to miss a moment. He missed so many in his first two seasons that no one could blame him for being antsy for this moment and the opportunity ahead.

A thigh contusion though forced Suggs to sit out arguably the two biggest games of the season against the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. Suggs had to absorb the environment and atmosphere of these pressure-packed games from the bench. He had to wait for his turn to get out on the floor.

More than that, he had to watch the physicality increase in those games, the kind of style that fits his eye. The exact kind of game he really wants to play.

To say the least, Suggs is really eager to jump back on the floor in Wednesday's game against the Brooklyn Nets.

"Those were two fun games that I missed," Suggs said after shootaround on Wednesday. "I was really hurt, I'm telling you. I wanted to be out there with the boys. The environment was high level. I hated it.

"I think it was a good learning moment for us. For me, personally, to be able to see that and I think I've felt those games from being in it. But being able to look at it from a different perspective was a good learning experience for the team. Now we have a lot of that stuff on film that we can watch and go back and help get better and improve for the next month and get ready for the Playoffs."

The Magic did get a taste of the Playoffs, especially in the loss at Madison Square Garden to the Knicks. Everyone acknowledged there was a raised intensity in the crowd. But more than that was the physicality of the play.

Orlando struggled to execute on offense throughout both games, failing to score 100 points in each game and having an offensive rating of less than 100.0 points per 100 possessions in each game.

The game was notable too for its physicality. Both games slowed to a crawl and both teams get to the line.

There has been a growing trend throughout the league (and maybe some conspiracy theories about midseason rule changes) to give the defenses more room to move and play that physical brand of basketball. This was at least confirmed by Shams Charania on Run It Back that the competition committee has begun meeting to give defenses more freedom.

That may be more about the future and future seasons to slow the offensive explosion. But it sure seems though that playoff basketball has arrived early throughout the league.

That is something the Magic are trying to adjust to and learn. They have been a physical defense all season to get into the top five in defensive rating. But certainly this weekend, they got taken aback by the physicality. It was an important lesson for this young team.

"Those two games I think showed us what the game is going to look like moving forward," Suggs said after shootaround Wednesday. "The physicality, the intensity, the attention to detail that we have to have. We have to continue to talk about and double down on our standards and really hold ourselves to that."

Notably absent from those two games was Suggs who loves to play a physical brand of defense. He is embracing this re-emphasis on physical play that has spread around the league.

That is something Suggs thrives on. He is in line to be an all-defensive team player and for good reason. Suggs is in the 90th percentile in D-LEBRON and 87th percentile in defensive box plus-minus among the catch-all defensive stats. Suggs hounds opponents with his energy and relentlessness.

Suggs is as key to the Magic's defensive success as any player. And he is licking his lips at the opportunity to play this style.

"Seeing the way that they play, especially the New York game, the physicality early, the touching, the pushing, I love it," Suggs said after shootaround Wednesday. "I hope that's how the game continues to progress and we are able to play like that. More leave it on the court and less in the calls of officiating. To see that from the bench instead of being so caught up in the emotion and the moment playing in the game, I got to see things I otherwise wouldn't recognize. As much as it sucks to be out, it was a great learning experience."

Orlando is eager to have Suggs back. His energy lifts the team beyond his contribution to the box score or the court -- he is shooting nearly 50 percent from three in eight games since the All-Star Break, which does not hurt either.

Suggs is eager to be back on the floor and experience and go through the physicality that is playoff basketball. It is seemingly the moment he has been looking forward to.

He sat out the last two games to make sure his thigh contusion would not become a worse problem down the road. He is ready to throw himself back into the fire and throw himself back into the physicality the Magic need on defense.

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This is the moment he has been eagerly waiting on. And the time of year everyone knows he thrives in.