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Nikola Vucevic preparing for challenging return to basketball

Vucevic dished on the return to basketball, the upcoming challenges, and more

Orlando Magic v Houston Rockets Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images

Nikola Vucevic hasn’t started to pack for the NBA’s elongated stay at Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports, but he has a list of things he wants to bring.

He knows he’s going to bring a lot of casual clothing — it is Florida in the summer, after all— as well as some books, and video games to help pass the time. While he has an NBA dress code to follow, he admitted during a Zoom conference on Wednesday that taking four bags, which he estimated he would need, is a little ridiculous.

Vucevic has also had conversations with players across the league, but not about the recent meteoric spike in COVID-19 cases in Florida, but moreso what the players should pack, and what they can expect being in Florida for an elongated period of time.

“None of them really mentioned being worried about the spike in cases here,” said Vucevic. “We will be in Orlando, but we will be closed off to the rest of the world pretty much, so I don’t think that’s much of a concern. It was more conversation about ‘What am I bringing? What am I going to be doing?’ It’s not like we as a team are organizing things and have access to certain things. It’s the NBA, so it’s going to be the same process for everyone else.”

As the league gets ready to embark into unchartered waters, some have talked about the possible need for an asterisk next to whoever wins the championship.

Central Florida native and Houston Rockets guard, Austin Rivers, said he believes there should be an asterisk, but because of the added challenges of the current season restart. It’s going to be a grueling stretch for everyone involved, and will be one of the toughest challenges a league champion has had, from having no home court advantage, and spending upwards of four months away from home.

Vucevic agreed with the sentiments that Rivers shared.

“In a way, I agree with that statement,” Vucevic said. “When you play a whole year, and you kind of prepare for going to the playoffs, then you have a three or four month break and you play on a neutral site. You don’t get to go home, you’re stuck in a hotel room, it’s different than what we’re used to. I think it will make it a lot more difficult than winning it the regular way.

“You don’t have home floor advantage of anything like that. It’s going to be different. One thing, when people were talking about it before, they were talking of having asterisks in a negative way. It’s going to be the same for everybody. It’s not like someone’s going to have an advantage compared to other teams. At the end of the day, it’s going to be the team that finds the best way to handle it. At the end, I don’t think whoever wins it is going to have a negative thing next to it. People might even respect it more because you’re able to do it in a tough situation.”

The challenges that will come with playing in the bubble, and being secluded from basically everyone will be something that none of these players or coaches have ever experienced. It’s going to take time to get used to their new way of playing games with no fans, being away from their family and loved ones, and not being able to go anywhere whenever they want to.

There’s also going to be the challenge of jumping back into things, and playing in high intensity games. Usually when the season beings, games have some intensity, but don’t mean as much that early. If you lose a game early, you still have plenty of time to rebound.

Now, in the bubble, it’s going to be completely different. Players are going to have to have it “turned on” from the start, which will be easier said than done after a three month hiatus.

“Our mental approach is going to be that every game is very, very important because of seeding,” said Vucevic. “Especially for us, the three teams fighting to get into the playoffs in the East. . . The mental part will be approached almost like April time where you have to fight for each game, but your body will be kind of like where it would be when you play in late October.

“The first two or three games, your mind might be at a point, but your body won’t want to be there yet. It won’t be the same way it is in November, but it’ll be kind of a mix because your body needs two or three games to get back in a rhythm, playing those minutes. They [the games] will be different than scrimmaging and playing in practice. We’re going to be fresh and rested from having this big break, the first few games will be an adjustment, then after that things will be pretty normal.”

Finding a rhythm after a long break can be tough, especially when you usually get a handful of full pre-season games to begin to get your rhythm back to start a season. Having to get up, and instantly flip the switch once again will likely lead to some sloppy basketball in the early games.

Vucevic does bring up something interesting worth monitoring for the Magic, as well.

With just three teams — Orlando, the Brooklyn Nets, and the Washington Wizards — fighting for the final two spots in the East, the Magic will have their work cut out to make the playoffs. If they can get the seventh seed outright, it makes things easier for them. Whoever finishes seventh won’t have to worry about a potential play-in game for the final spot.

If the Magic were to finish eighth, and one of Brooklyn or Washington was within five games of them, they’d have to win the aforementioned play-in game just to make it.

The road ahead isn’t going to be easy for any of the 22 teams that are entering the NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando. There’s going to be a seemingly unlimited challenges for everyone involved, including Vucevic and the Magic as they get ready to chase their second straight playoff appearance.