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Magic vs. Pacers preview: Steve Clifford to miss Sunday’s game following positive test

Ty Corbin will step in for Clifford

Orlando Magic v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Magic have used more starting lineup variations this season (29) than ever before in franchise history.

They are in a league of their own in terms of number of games missed by injured players...

They traded away their longtime core.

And now comes another absence for Sunday’s game against the Pacers, and perhaps for the foreseeable future: Steve Clifford.

The Magic announced that Clifford will not be on the sidelines during the game after testing positive for COVID-19. Clifford is asymptomatic, but must clear the NBA’s health and safety protocols and pass multiple negative tests before returning, which could mean missing multiple games. Taking Clifford’s spot on the sideline will be Ty Corbin.

“He’s obviously had experience as a head coach,” Clifford told reporters on Saturday night. “He did it last year in Minnesota where I had the scare there at halftime. The guys have great respect for him and he’ll do a great job.”

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Clifford’s absence comes after what was possibly his harshest assessment of the shorthanded Magic’s performance this season following their 135-100 loss to the Pelicans. The Magic were dominated in the paint, outrebounded, and lifeless on offense as they fell behind by as many as 42 points in what was their fourth straight loss, and 10th in their last 11 games.

“We had guys out there worrying about numbers who actually on the stat sheet, as I look at it, look OK and were terrible,” Clifford said. Terrible. Not bad, terrible.”

Not sure exactly who he was singling out there, but a quick look at the box score shows only two or three players whose stat lines looked “OK,” most notable being Mo Bamba, who started in place of Wendell Carter Jr. and had 17 points and 12 rebounds but struggled with his shot and at the defensive end. Chuma Okeke had the worst shooting performance of his rookie season, going just 1-for-12 from the field, and over his last three games is shooting just 25.6 percent on 13.0 field goal attempts per.

“For me, these last three weeks and 13 games, it’s really so much about the players,” Clifford said on Saturday. “It’s been a tough year but you have to evaluate things, you have to self reflect. This is not easy for the guys either. The easy thing to do to me as a head coach is say, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ But our guys are trying hard. We didn’t the other night, but we have for the most part. I want them to get the most out of these 13 games as they can. And I think our younger guys have a good attitude about it, I think our older guys have been great. Obviously the health issues have been nothing like I’ve ever dealt with before. But I want us to finish strong and I want us to play better and make progress.”

During this 11-game stretch, the Magic have posted the league’s worst offensive rating by a comfortable margin at 122.1 points per 100 possessions, and the second worst offensive rating at 103.9. Part of that can be attributed to the endless injuries, and that again could be the case on Sunday. Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle), Terrence Ross (back) and James Ennis (calf) are questionable, and Michael Carter-Williams (ankle) and Otto Porter Jr. (foot) remain out.

The Pacers have been shorthanded themselves, particularly in the frontcourt with Domantas Sabonis having missed his last three games with a back issue and Myles Turner and T.J. Warren also having been out for an extended period. Sabonis is listed as questionable for the Pacers, but in his absence got a pair of double-doubles out of rookie Oshae Brissett. Plenty of firepower in the backcourt in the backcourt with Malcolm Brogdon, averaging a team-best 21.6 points, and Caris LeVert, averaging 18.8 points since being acquired. Edmond Sumner is also coming off a career-high matching 22-point performance.

The Pacers, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, are seeking a third straight win as they fight for position in the play-in tournament.

Who: Orlando Magic (18-41) vs. Indiana Pacers (28-31)

When: Sunday at 8 p.m.

Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida

TV: Bally Sports Florida