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Mo Bamba didn’t play in Dallas because he violated a team rule

The rookie missed his first game of the year after being benched by Steve Clifford for disciplinary reasons

NBA: Preseason-Orlando Magic at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Mo Bamba made his first official rookie mistake.

Steve Clifford decided not to play Bamba in the Magic’s 101-76 loss to the Mavericks because the rookie center violated a team rule, he told reporters after the game.

“So, it’s just a one-game thing,” Clifford said. “Mo will play again on Thursday. But that’s what it was.”

Bamba sat on the bench for the entire game and was the only active player on the 12-man roster not to play. It first became evident that something was amiss when Khem Birch checked into the game for Jonathan Isaac after a timeout with 1:58 remaining in the first quarter.

Birch, the seldom-used third string center, had previously played a grand total of 45 minutes this season. But, in Bamba’s absence on Monday, he logged a season-high 22 minutes and finished with eight points and six rebounds.

We don’t know the full details of Bamba’s infraction, but his postgame comments suggest it was related to his tardiness. Bamba took ownership of his mistake.

“It’s just bad on my part and I just need to be better,” Bamba told reporters after the game.

“Just got to be on time,” he later added. “Just got to be on time.”

The game in Dallas was a homecoming of sorts for Bamba, who spent one year at the University of Texas. It was the second time the Magic have played in Texas this season, with Bamba having tallied 12 points and 11 rebounds in San Antonio on November 4.

Fans and former classmates who may have made the roughly three-hour trip north from the University to American Airlines Arena instead got the unexpected sight of Bamba on the bench all night for what was the first DNP of his young career.

“It’s very difficult,” Bamba told reporters of being on the bench. “You want to be out there and you want to impact the game in any way possible and hope for a different outcome. But you get to sit back and watch and see what you can do better at the same time.”

His absence came at a bad time as the Magic dropped a third straight and struggled through one of their most lopsided losses of the season. Bamba, though, is a high-character guy who in no way seems the rule-breaking type. This will likely be an isolated incident and the rookie will learn from his mistake.