So, Nikola Vucevic, how was the Magic’s first practice inside the NBA bubble?
It felt great to be back,” Vooch told the media after practice. “Having the team together, having that feel of practicing again all together, was great.”
How about the practice facility?
“It’s our courts, so that was great to see,” he said. “But I know it’s a convention center, the ceilings are a little lower than what you’re used to.”
“I kind of went in the same way I would usually go for my national team,” he said. “Usually when we start camp for four weeks, they take us into the mountains kind of in the middle of nowhere, and we do preparation for like four weeks. The hotel [in the mountains] is definitely not as nice. A lot of time you don’t even have WiFI in your room, you have to go to the lobby to have it. So, this is definitely a good setup.”
“I see guys complaining about the food and everything,” he said. “I mean, we just got here and it wasn’t that bad. It was fine. It’s not what we’re usually eating at home, sure. But you have to consider that they’re making food for over 1,000 people. So, it’s not as easy to do that.”
So, to recap: the food is not fine dining but it’s edible, the hotel is not the Four Seasons but it’s an upgrade over those in the middle of nowhere, the practice facility is not Amway Center but it’s useable. And most importantly, the Magic’s first practice was a success!
First look at the practice court #GameOn | #WholeNewGame pic.twitter.com/L16l8brX8s— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) July 9, 2020
“I was really happy with today,” Steve Clifford said. “I though guys had great energy. They were pleased to be out there. We’ve been sitting around for whatever, 36 hours since we got here in quarantine, and not only did we have good energy, we didn’t do anything 5-on-5, but we did do a lot of organizational things. It was far, far better than I would have hoped for.”
Without a blueprint for how to return to NBA conditioning following a four-month hiatus for a global pandemic, Clifford is bringing his team along slowly. Day one consisted of no contact, 5-on-5, or individual defense. Instead, Vucevic said, the team focused simply on running through the offense, taking shots, and getting up and down the court.
The intensity will gradually ramp up, beginning with day two when Clifford said the team will play live.
“It’ll take some time obviously to get that level of play back, especially offensively,” Clifford added. “But we have a smart group. If they work like they did today then I think we can make quick progress.”
“I think that we have a good plan,” Clifford later added. “We want to help them get their games in rhythm, get as organized as we can, and do it injury free. Those are our three goals.”
The Magic, being the team with the shortest commute to the Disney World bubble, have been the league’s restart pioneers: the first team to arrive on Tuesday, the first team to practice on Thursday, and soon enough (we hope), the first team to tip off on July 22 when they scrimmage the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It’s a different setting, different circumstances. Same approach,” Aaron Gordon said after practice. “But we know we have the three preseason games, eight regular season games and then into the playoffs. We’ve got to get our mentality back sharp, get our rhythm back. Practice felt fine. Felt a little weird, but I think as we progress things will start to normalize.”
Finally...Let’s do this... pic.twitter.com/QtbKJHp2wf— Nikola Vucevic (@NikolaVucevic) July 9, 2020
For Gordon, the biggest challenge is regaining some sense of normalcy and pushing through the unusual elements, is more mental than physical.
“There was a lot of apprehension, and there was a toss-up of whether we would even continue the season,” Gordon says. “It was kind of like putting your foot on the brake and the gas at the same time. Now it’s time to do all gas.”
Stepping on the gas isn’t so easy when you’re not certain you even want to move forward. Gordon admit that finding the motivation to get back on the court amid the struggles across the country was not easy.
“I’m going to be honest with you guys, it was extremely hard to get motivated. Extremely hard,” he said. “Especially with all the circumstances going on in America. All the different injustice, the pandemic, the health crisis. It was a lot of things that were preventing me from being motivated to get back on the court. I’m here to tell you guys I’m not here to do it for myself. That’s the only motivation that I have, I’m not here to do it for myself. I’m here to do it for my team. I’m here to do it for the Orlando Magic. I’m here to do it for my teammates. I’m here to win a championship.”
But before the Magic get to the games that count, they need to pass the time in semi-isolation, which began with a 36-hour quarantine after they arrived. Gordon said he spent the first day sleeping and the second day meditating and mentally preparing. Vooch said he brought video games, movies and books to keep himself occupied. Clifford said, for him, it was mostly business as usual.
“I actually just watched a ton of film,” he said. “For me it wasn’t that different from a lot of other days, to be honest with you.”
His players seemed to enjoying getting back to business, stepping onto the court together as a team for the first time since March 10 in Memphis.
“I see guys out here smiling,” Gordon said. “So that’s a good sign.”
Added Vucevic: “You can just tell that guys were excited. Also, you have to take into consideration that for 36, 48 hours we didn’t see anybody else outside of our rooms. We kind of missed talking to anybody else but ourselves in the mirror.”