With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
Racking up career-bests is a good way to get noticed in an evaluation of this sort, and the recently positive play of the Magic has certainly added some extra shine to the work of Head Coach, Jamahl Mosley. The second-year tactician deserves a healthy dollop of praise for helping to pull the team out of the excruciating tailspin it was in. Amidst the chaos of losing and injury he managed to refocus the engagement of his young roster, locate a level of lineup consistency that established clear roles and expectations, and even implement small tweaks at both ends of the court that helped to improve the team’s performance. His reward? The first three-game winning streak of his professional career, a PB he quickly extended to four courtesy of the team’s most impressive offensive explosion since he picked up the clipboard. There’s good reason for Mosley’s smile to currently be as big as it has been at any point so far this season.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: at Celtics (Fri); at Celtics (Sun); at Hawks (Mon); at Rockets (Wed)
The high degree of difficulty continues for the Magic this week, with a road exclusive slate consisting of a duo of duels against the East-leading Celtics, a return match-up against the currently play-in bound Hawks, and a showdown with a plucky Rockets team that has won two in a row and six of their last ten. It’s a six day stretch that would project as, at the least, tricky for any team in the league.
Except for the fact that, well, Orlando is now an unstoppable basketball juggernaut! The team comfortably swept away all of last week’s foes to continue a winning streak that they kickstarted with an overtime takedown of a Clippers side sporting both Kawhi and PG. The run is now at four straight, and a quick glance at the schedule suggests that it’s possible that number extends to *checks notes* fifty-seven. Anything is possible!
Well, except that it probably isn’t. The Celtics are genuinely the league’s best, with more wins than anyone else, the best differential in the business, and the leading candidate for MVP. They’re also likely to welcome back both Al Horford and Robert Williams in time for the tilts against the Magic, further complicating an already difficult equation for the young Magic. As Robert Frost, Ponyboy and *checks notes again* New Found Glory have all tried to teach us at various points, everything eventually fades away; this week it’s almost certainly going to be Orlando’s recent run as one of the NBA’s hottest teams that cools off to some degree.
The crystal ball says …
The Magic will secure a victory or even two, but Ws three and four are unlikely.
It’s time to keep an eye on …
Markelle Fultz. The re-acclimating point guard was mentioned in this same space just last week, with early musings about the nature of his fit alongside the franchise’s dynamic forward duo surfacing as he worked his way back into rhythm with his teammates. The question today, instead, is about just how good the side can be with Fultz and his staccato fluidity pulling the strings. The answer, pleasingly, already appears to be trending in the right direction.
While so much is still ultimately unknown about the ceiling of both Fultz and this team in the years to come, the admittedly interrupted evidence from the last few years has been pretty solid. Consider this: the Magic are a .500 team with Fultz as a starter this season. At the end of the 2021/22 campaign that percentage was .667. The year before that? .750 across the opening stretch before injury struck. Each of those numbers are arrived at by an admittedly minuscule sample size, but if you total up all of his ‘first five’ performances in pinstripes you’ll still arrive at a record that lands on the positive side of the ledger. Through a variety of permutations, the Magic have demonstrated that they win more often than they lose with Fultz among the starting unit.
Lest we get too carried away, it’s worth noting a classic ol’ chestnut: correlation does not imply causation. There are an almost limitless number of factors that influenced the wins the Magic have secured with Fultz starting at point guard. Moving forward the puzzle that must be pieced together is how significant his contributions were – and still can be – among that multitude of circumstances.
Three from downtown
- Tonight marks the start of a four-game road trip for the Magic, the first of four such away swings of that length they have left this season. Remember, Orlando is currently 1-11 outside of Central Florida, the worst road mark league-wide. They also have more remaining away games (29) than all sides bar one (Milwaukee, 28). The team’s trajectory this season ultimately figures to hinge on what they can muster away from home.
- When the Magic re-signed Mo Bamba this summer it was seemingly with the intent of flipping him for something. Now that the league’s trade market has opened back up for business, what would a reasonable return for the big man look like? Or, as the team’s only genuine back-up five, is he too valuable to this season’s on-court product?
- RJ Hampton’s decision to get some G-League game time this week was notable for a handful of reasons, perhaps most significantly for what it confirms about his place in the pecking order. Despite the improvements he has made, it’s hard to see where the opportunity will emerge for him in Orlando.
A figure for thought
866. The number of days since the Orlando Magic last posted a fifth consecutive win.