The Orlando Magic have been able to go on a franchise record-tying nine-game win streak without Markelle Fultz. That is quite a feat considering how much the Magic in years past have struggled whenever Fultz would miss games due to injury.
The team has done well this time around. Orlando has climbed to second in the Eastern Conference at 14-6. The team has built a top four defense and has even crept into the top half of the league in offensive rating.
Fresh off that nine-game win streak, the team seems to be doing OK. Especially considering the team's starting point guard in Fultz has played in only one game since Nov. 1.
But they need their leader back on the court as soon as possible. He is such a calming presence on the court. Entering one of the most difficult parts of the Magic's schedule, they need to get back to full strength to maintain this start.
Whether it is him putting his arms around his teammates and making a huddle in the game to calm everyone down or whether it is him slowing the game down when the other team goes on a run, or whether it is him attacking the rim to throw down a thunderous dunk or make a slick pass to a teammate, Fultz just calms this team down.
There is just so much that Fultz does that is needed on every basketball team. He just simply always makes the right play. And the Magic are readying to play at a higher level with teams targeting them more now as a top team in the Eastern Conference. They need their floor leader and general out there.
Fultz has not had the best season for sure. In his five appearances this season, Fultz is averaging only 11.4 points per game and 4.0 assists per game. He has shot 48.2 percent from the floor but has been hesitant to shoot from deep.
The Magic are hoping he gets back to the intensity and energy he played with to end last season when he looked more and more like the former No. 1 overall pick. He averaged 14.0 points per game last season with 5.7 assists per game. He shot 51.4 percent from the floor.
Fultz has been out since Oct. 31 with left knee tendonitis. He has officially been described as day-to-day, but with his prolonged absence it appears there is a bigger issue. Coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Monday that he is progressing "slowly" but wsa back on the court doing activities with the coaching staff. That is a good sign for his eventual return.
And hopefully a return to what seemed to bring so much promise from last season. That is the Fultz the team is missing.
Former Magic coach Steve Clifford said the same thing as coach Jamahl Mosley does now. Fultz just simply is a very smart basketball player. He has shown the ability to become a very good defender in recent years. His finishing and midrange jumper have always been top-notch. His playmaking and presence of mind of where his teammates are on the court have always been very sharp.
Both losses to the Brooklyn Nets this season have been games the Orlando Magic missed Fultz a ton. It is the way the Nets play that gave the Magic a ton of trouble.
They defend at a high level and force the team to turn the ball over and then score points in transition. Fultz usually does not let teams beat the Magic with that strategy. He simply slows the game down and gets the Magic great shots in the half-court set.
The Magic sort of looked panicked when the Nets pressured them on defense. They made some "hot potato" passes. They needed a calming presence who could walk the ball up the court and get the team into their sets.
Anthony Black has been great. He has shown he can be a very high-level defender.
But as of right now in his short rookie campaign, that is all the 19-year-old Black can offer.
The Magic have a +1.9 net rating with Black on the floor with a 111.0/109.2 offensive/defensive rating split. Orlando is not playing poorly at all. The Magic's starting group has an overall net rating of +2.5 points per 100 possessions (112.0/109.4 split).
There has been some slipping though, especially with the starting group. In the last five games, that same starting group has a -2.2 net rating with a woeful 118.2 defensive rating. The team is struggling to get out to a good start.
That is where they need Fultz's calming presence.
It is not Black's fault at all, but that is just the reality right now. He is a very hard worker that will grow more strengths in his game than just that.
For now, the Magic have to wait for Fultz to return though. It still seems like he is not close to a return. It is hardly day-to-day with him. But they need him back ASAP.
The Magic will be tested with the tough schedule coming up. The Magic play the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, Boston Celtics twice, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets all within the next month.
Those are very tough games for any team. The Magic are in a great position at second in the Eastern Conference. They need to do anything and everything to keep that spot. This stretch could very well dictate the Magic's entire season.