There was one brief moment during Nikola Vucevic’s postgame conference with the media that showed how times have changed in the NBA.
“Tonight, I mean, today…whatever,” Vucevic said after the Magic lost to the Clippers, 99-90, in a scrimmage that goes down in history as the first game in the NBA bubble.
That the game tipped off at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon is part of the new normal for a league attempting a restart under challenging circumstances. The start times, with the Magic’s actual opener also slated for an afternoon matinee, are unusual. As are the spaced-out benches, the flashing screens surrounding the court, and the fact that players can’t high-five or take postgame showers or go beyond a few square miles of the Disney campus for an indefinite period of time.
And, of course, there are the fan-less venues, where a bouncing basketball or yelling coach are all that break the deafening sound of silence.
“Once we started playing and stuff, I didn’t really pay much attention to it obviously,” said Vucevic, who led the Magic with 18 points and 10 rebounds in nearly 21 minutes. “I mean, you miss the noise and the interaction with the fans, especially if it’s like a big moment or something during the game or a big play. So, you miss that. But, I think once we were actually getting up and down the court and playing and stuff, it wasn’t too bad. I think I got used to it pretty quickly.”
Vucevic did not, however, get used to the complete silence when he approached the free throw line, when even the ball, the coaches and the music from the speakers get muted.
“I was shooting the first free throw and it was super quiet,” Vucevic said. “And it was like, this is a little awkward because there was no noise at all.”
The eerily quiet arenas will take some getting used to, although to be fair, the windows at Amway Center have really never been at risk of shattering from elevated decibel levels. Still, removing nearly 20,000 people from any environment has an impact.
“It’s really quiet,” Aaron Gordon said after tallying 13 points and seven rebounds in roughly 21 minutes. “So, you had to bring your own energy. You can hear everything that’s being said on the floor. Communication is very clear. Kind of has a Summer League type of feel to it.”
Added Terrence Ross: “For me, it wasn’t too weird. Once you start playing, this is kind of what practice feels like. In practice, there’s no fans, and we still scrimmage and play each other and you still gotta bring it. So, in a sense it felt like that.”
For Michael Carter-Williams, his typical crowd-pleasing hustle plays won’t stop because of empty seats, as he recorded 16 points and three assists in just over 18 minutes off the bench. Still…
“It was tough playing without no fans, honestly,” Carter-Williams said. “It was weird. You expect people to cheer and stuff when you’re doing something well. The gym is dead silence at different points, so it definitely is weird and it’s going to take some getting used to.”
The courts, however are the same length, the hoops the same height, although depth perceptions seems as if it could be a factor. For the Magic, concern is less on the conditions and more on the conditioning. As expected, the team that took the court for their first scrimmage in the bubble did not resemble the team that owned the league’s top-ranked offense prior to the stoppage of play. The Magic connected on just 5 of 28 three-point attempts, a percentage that Steve Clifford said was impacted both by a lack of conditioning and rhythm, and the Clippers’ ability to switch and deny and execute defensively.
“The one thing that we were doing well before the break before play stoppage was moving the ball and playing with really good flow offensively,” Clifford said. “And [the Clippers are] terrific on defense and they’re long, and they’re deep, and their denial and their switching slowed us down.”
Felt good to get back out there pic.twitter.com/yakjpsXYqK— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) July 22, 2020
And if you’re wondering what Coach Cliff thought of the setup…
“I thought it was much more comfortable than I thought it would be,” he said. “I think that the teams that can adapt to playing in a unique, kind of different environment without all the fans, whoever can get the right mindset so they can concentrate on just playing will have a big advantage.”
To do so, they’ll have to embrace the NBA’s new normal and social distancing protocols … everywhere except on the court.
“The NBA wants to make sure to take precautions,” Vucevic said, “and wants to set an example to the rest of the world that if we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.”
And, by the way, the day wasn’t entirely silent for the Orlando Magic, the default home team in the NBA restart at Disney...
disney employees are cheering “let’s go magic” for the players before their scrimmage. pic.twitter.com/SICVsok3Xm— NBA Bubble Life (@NBABubbleLife) July 22, 2020
The Magic are back on the court Saturday at noon against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.