The Orlando Magic are a dangerously deep team.
So much was made of the team tying its franchise record of nine consecutive wins earlier this month and how impressive that streak was. They beat the defending champion Denver Nuggets and the Boston Celtics without being at full strength.
It is hard to believe the Magic have done this without two starters. It has made the Magic's start both more surprising and feel a bit more permanent.
Has there ever been a young NBA team that went on a nine-game winning streak without two of its starters? If so, were the two starters they were missing their center and point guard?
The Magic have done just that winning crucial early season games against championship contenders without two starters. Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz have missed more games than they have played at this point in the season and the team awaits their return.
Carter has not seen any court action since Nov. 2 when he fractured his hand in a 115-113 win against the Utah Jazz. But the Magic look forward to his return as they are missing his defensive energy and competitive spirit.
Before the injury, Carter averaged 9.4 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game but he was making a bigger impact defensively, especially defending the rim where opponents have shot just 13 for 33 against him in his five games this season.
The Magic started Goga Bitadze in his absence and he has played well. Bitadze has picked up right where Carter left off. Bitadze has averaged 7.3 points per game and 6.0 rebounds this year for the Magic while still providing solid paint and rim protection. Moe Wagner substitutes for Goga Bitadze and he has emerged as a Sixth-Man of the Year Award candidate.
The organization has made the best out of Carter's injury, by getting players more reps which provides more depth for this young squad. It also gets the other guys to settle into their natural roles once Carter comes back.
Bitadze will not be afraid of any moment if Carter gets in foul trouble or is unable to play for any particular reason. Orlando has three solid center options the team can trust for the rest of the season or as matchups dictate.
Markelle Fultz has missed the majority of the games this year because of knee tendinitis, playing just once since sitting out for the first time Nov. 2 in Utah.
Fultz was playing at a high level before he started experiencing that swelling in his knee, looking like a floor general at times. Fultz averaged 11.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game before the injury.
Fultz has been out since Nov. 9 and left a big hole for the Magic to fill. Jamahl Mosely chose to start rookie guard Anthony Black in Markelle Fultz's absence. Black has been a good role player for the Magic in his first season and is getting this opportunity due to Fultz's availability.
Black has played great defensively and gives the Magic high defensive energy on the perimeter. He is very long for his size and is deceptively quick with his feet. He playd sparingly when Fultz was healthy and playing. But immediately upon entering the starting lineup against the Jazz, he made an impact scoring nine points, grabbing three rebounds and dishing out an assist in 16 minutes in his first start.
He quickly followed that up when the Magic returned from their West Coast trip with 11 points, four rebounds and two assists in the home win against the Los Angeles Lakers. Black has been used sparingly on offense, but he is a smart cutter and does not play beyond himself. He has filled the role admirably.
But it is also abundantly clear the Magic can be much better with more consequential offensive players in Carter and Fultz on the floor. As well as the Magic have played, everyone is eager to see the team at full strength.
So the Magic were able to test their depth early in the season because of these two key injuries. It may have put the coaches in an uncomfortable situation but it helped exercise their options.
The two starters are expected to be back sometime next week -- they both went through more contact in practice Thursday but were not "full-go" according to coach Jamahl Mosley.
The Magic will be a different team when they return due to the experience that was gained during their absence. The fans in Central Florida hope that this experience will lead to more high-scoring games and, more importantly, wins for this young team.