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Magic vs. Hawks preview: The Mo Bamba contradiction

What’s the over/under on the number of minutes Bamba plays in the first-half finale?

Utah Jazz v Orlando Magic Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Here is the big question involving the Orlando Magic in what is the final game of the first-half of the season:

How many minutes will Mo Bamba play?

Let’s put the number at over/under 10 and place our bets.

Based on the trend we’ve seen in the last two games, I’m going to take the over on this one. And if that doesn’t make much sense, it’s because nothing really makes sense when it comes to Mo Bamba’s playing time.

I think Steve Clifford is a great coach. I think he has done a phenomenal job this season squeezing every last drop out of an injury-ravaged team. I think he is and should be secure in his job with the Magic.

And it’s hard to place the entire Bamba situation on him because 1) he’s paid to win games and he feels Khem Birch gives him the best opportunity to do so and 2) we don’t know what kind of mandates are coming from the front office, medical staff, etc.

But here is where Clifford failed recently....

Bamba on Thursday against the Nets played 13 minutes compared to Birch’s six.

“We’re gonna do it like that, I’m going to try to keep everybody in rhythm as best that we can,” Clifford told reporters after the game. “I’m going to try to keep everybody in rhythm as best that we can. Mo need the time, cause you can see obviously his conditioning level is still, through no fault of his own, but he’s missed so much time that he needs to be out there. And that’s how we’re gonna do it.”

And that’s how Clifford did it in the Magic’s next game, a loss against the Jazz in which Bamba played 13 minutes and scored 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting, and Birch received his first DNP of the season. Finally! Clifford and the Magic listed to a fanbase that has been clamoring to see Bamba on the court as the team looks forwards the future.

Not so much...

Bamba in his very next game was the one who didn’t take off his warmups, getting a DNP while Birch logged 13 minutes and went scoreless in the Magic’s loss to the Mavs on Monday.

I don’t want to play the whole “when you look up the definition of the word ‘rhythm’ in the dictionary...” angle here but doesn’t staying in rhythm require consistent playing time? Clifford’s actions over a two-game span completely contradicted his words.

Here was Clifford’s reasoning when our Aaron Goldstone asked him after the Mavs game why he opted to go with Birch over Bamba.

“Pick-and-roll defense against them as much as anything,” Clifford responded. They’re such a high-volume pick-and-roll team. Khem is an exceptional pick-and-roll defender.”

So somewhere between Thursday and Monday, pick-and-roll defense became a larger priority than Bamba’s rhythm and, in the bigger picture, development. Had this occurred without Clifford’s comments from Thursday, there is no major issue. But following what Clifford said, and Bamba smiling ear-to-ear when asked about playing regularly, and Bamba then playing well in the very next game, and Bamba then not playing at all...well, Magic Twitter wasn’t happy...

Nothing will throw off Bamba’s rhythm, and confidence more than being told he is getting regular playing time, only to have a DNP after what appeared to be a solid performance. Cliff may value pick-and-roll defense, and he may hate foolish fouls and costly turnovers as any coach should — all of which are things Bamba needs to improve on. But the best way to learn how to do so is by being on the court. And what better time to be on the court then during what is so clearly a lost season?

Clifford saying one thing and doing another seems to be a microcosm of the uncertain direction of the Orlando Magic and the place they currently hold in purgatory where teams can’t decide whether they want to attempt to make the playoffs or have as many lottery balls as possible.

The injuries and the strength of schedule should make that an easy decision this season. Just as playing Bamba over Birch should be an easy decision with the current state of the team, before the 2018 draft becomes an even bigger disaster than it already is. So again, I ask you, how many minutes does Mo Bamba play tonight?

The Magic have lost four in a row and 20 of their last 27 games, putting them second to last in the East, yet only 3.5 games out of the eighth spot. They’ll take on a Hawks team that will have interim coach Nate McMillan taking over after the firing of Lloyd Pierce. Trae Young has struggled offensively over his last three games, averaging just 16.7 points on 31.9 % shooting.

Who: Orlando Magic (13-22) vs. Atlanta Hawks (15-20)

When: Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida

TV: Fox Sports Florida