Well, it won’t be LeBron vs. Vooch.
The All-Stars originally slated to participate in Sunday’s matchup between the Magic and Lakers in Los Angeles are all either injured or shipped out.
Instead, star power will be replaced with curiosity as the Magic’s new additions take the court for the first time with Orlando.
Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and R.J. Hampton all will make their Magic debut. Gary Harris remains out with a thigh strain. Jeff Teague is somewhere.
For Carter Jr,, who has underperformed during three injury-plagued seasons with the Bulls, it’s an opportunity to prove that he should be the Magic’s starting center of the future over Mo Bamba, the player selected with the pick before him in the 2018 NBA Draft.
For Porter Jr., it’s an opportunity to provide veteran leadership to a team that now badly needs it, and also prove that he is worthy of a contract over the final weeks of a deal that paid him over $28 million this season.
What Otto Porter Jr. feels he can bring to this team pic.twitter.com/VCzuUSCO5j— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) March 27, 2021
For Hampton, it’s an opportunity to become a part of the Magic’s young backcourt for years to come alongside Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony.
“We are going to be younger,” Steve Clifford told reporters. “I think guys like Otto Porter, Gary Harris, they can do for the younger guys a lot of the things Vooch did for them. You definitely need that, and I think it’s wise to understand that there could be some tough stretches in games when you have all younger guys on the floor.”
One of those younger guys has already been on the floor for the Magic and playing quite well of late: Chuma Okeke, who will look to set a new career-high for the third consecutive game. Okeke scored 17 points against the Suns in what was the final game with the Magic for Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier. He then dropped 22 in what was a closer than expected loss to the Blazers on Friday as a Magic team of just eight “Who’s He Play For?” contestants showed a gutsy effort.
They’ll have more depth against a shorthanded L.A. team that will be without LeBron James, who has missed the last four games with an ankle sprain, and Anthony Davis, who has been out since February with a calf strain.
Instead, they’ll take on the likes of Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell. The Lakers, now fourth in the Western Conference, snapped a four-game losing streak on Friday, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For a Magic team that has lost 12 of 14 games, the matchup with the Lakers is the most winnable game of their five game Western trip that includes games against the Clippers, Pelicans, Jazz and Nuggets. But again, the season is no longer about wins and losses. It’s about seeing which pieces of the puzzle are part of the long-term future, and also about the team being in the best possible position for the draft lottery.
It will be interesting to see how Clifford balances rotations and playing time with a mix of developing players and veterans, particularly with the Carter-Bamba-Birch unit.
We’ll soon find out as the new additions take the court in what is the first official game of the Orlando Magic’s rebuild.
Who: Orlando Magic (15-30) at Los Angeles Lakers (29-17)
When: Sunday at 10 p.m.
Where: Staples Center - Los Angeles, California
TV: Fox Sports Florida