Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz nearing return for Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic have been without two starters for the last month but have still racked up wins. The team is almost completely healthy with both Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz returning to practice and nearing their returns.

Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz are clearing their final hurdles to return to the court for the Orlando Magic.
Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz are clearing their final hurdles to return to the court for the Orlando Magic. / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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Wendell Carter recalled going up for the rebound against the Utah Jazz on Nov. 2 and knowing immediately something was wrong. The Magic needed that rebound off a missed free throw to secure a win on the road. And Carter got up high for the board. But there was nothing anyone could do.

After the Jazz fouled Carter, he immediately left the court and went back to the locker room. The team discovered he had fractured the third metacarpal in his left hand. He would eventually have surgery and have to work his way back.

Markelle Fultz missed that game too with left knee tendinitis. He has played in only one game since then.

Both players are ramping up for their return and seem set to rejoin the team soon. Wednesday represented a big step in their recovery.

Coach Jamahl Mosley said both participated in portions of the Magic's practice on Wednesday. With another practice Thursday before the team heads to Boston for a weekend set with the Boston Celtics (and a practice scheduled for Saturday), it appears their returns are imminent and the Magic are going to get two starters back in the lineup.

"I know what kind of player I am and what I can bring to a team," Carter said after practice Wednesday. "Just looking from the sideling knowing what I can do myself, it's going to be really special. Especially when me and Markelle get back. We are one of the top teams in the East right now, but it is going to propel us higher knowing what kind of players we are."

Carter said his hand feels good and is about 85-90 percent healed. It still gets sore at times and he is working to make sure it can handle the trauma of game action -- like catching the ball, grabbing rebounds and dunking it.

Carter has cleared all the hurdles his doctors have put in front of him and there are only a few left to pass.

It is not yet clear when he might return. Just as it is not yet clear when Fultz will return. But for the Magic getting the players out in practice is a big part of the process. That is what made this week a critical week in both of their recoveries.

Mosley said they both went through some contact drills with the team and continued working on 5-on-0 offense (as they did after shootaround on Monday when they donned the famous "Green Goblin" jerseys for the first time since their injuries). They also worked on the details of their defense.

It will still be day-to-day and practice-to-practice on when they can play. But it is clearly coming soon.

"I thought it was a great day for them," Mosley said after practice Wednesday. "It was a great day for all of our guys. The level of intentionality in what we were doing, the focus level and the intensity of the practice were really great. It was great seeing Kelle and Dell both out there able to go with the group and what we were doing."

It is certainly a welcome sight and welcome news to know they are both nearing a return.

It is something the Magic have wanted for a while. But it is not necessarily something the team needs. Both Goga Bitadze and Anthony Black have played well in their absence. And, most importantly, the team has been winning.

The Magic's starting group with Black and Bitadze in the lineup has a net rating of +2.8 points per 100 possessions with a 111.5 offensive rating and 108.7 defensive rating. It has helped keep the ship steady for the Magic.

It is not like Carter and Fultz were tearing things up in the few games they played this season.

Carter was averaging only 9.4 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game on an icy 37.3 percent shooting. Fultz too was struggling averaging only 11.4 points per game and 4.0 assists per game on 48.2 percent shooting. He had yet to make a 3-pointer.

When they left the lineup, the team was struggling mightily on offense but playing defense at a high level. And that was evident with how the starting group played.

The starting group with Fultz and Carter had a net rating of +10.4 points per 100 possessions in 78 minutes together -- a 105.4 offensive rating and an outstanding 95.1 defensive rating. It is still the second-most used lineup for the Magic.

Very clearly things have changed for the team. It is hard to expect this team to be the same as it was more than a month ago.

It is why the Magic are not so concerned about bringing these players back. They know what they can do from last year more than the five games to start the season.

And the team has gained a deeper focus on winning since then as they have climbed the standings.

"I don't worry about because from me, Markelle to Goga and AB to everyone on the team, everybody wants to win," Carter said after practice Wednesday. "Whatever it takes for us to win, whether it's more minutes for Goga, more minutes for me, less minutes. However it shapes, however it flows, as long as we win, that's all that matters."

This day was coming regardless of what anybody wants.

The Magic will be forced to make some difficult decisions about their rotation. But these are good decisions to have because the Magic have capable players. They have some depth to play with now.

This is ultimately a good thing. But Carter is right too. Knowing the player he is capable of being, the Magic can be a better team with him on the floor -- just as they can be a better team with Fultz on the floor.

There is not enough evidence from this season to draw any conclusions on what he looks like with this team. There is definitely anticipation from everyone for these players to rejoin the fold.

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Orlando is certainly looking forward to it. And it is almost time for them to step back onto the court.