With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
This was a week of few real standout moments for the Magic, but amidst the gloom the synchronized returns of Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony were enough to slap a temporary smile on the faces of the pinstriped faithful. For Fultz it’s the encapsulation of a rehabilitative journey that has essentially been two years in the making, a late season cameo last year finally giving way to this season’s stalled start. For Cole it was a comeback after a month on the sidelines, an opportunity to stake his claim to this team’s backcourt frustratingly waylaid by an oblique injury.
Most significantly, for the Magic it signals a shift towards some level of normality, a team that had been bereft of dependable point guard play finally welcoming back their preferred pair of quarterback options. It didn’t bear immediate fruit – the team getting waxed by the Hawks with both Fultz and Anthony looking understandably rusty – but once the duo are able to settle into a rhythm it should start to translate into a more cohesive on-court product. Considering the interminable nature of Orlando’s injury history, the pair’s return to play this week stands out as a win.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: at Cavs (Fri); at Raptors (Sat); vs Bucks (Mon); vs Clippers (Wed)
Well, if you hadn’t already noticed, this week seals the deal – Orlando’s schedule is now stuffed full of T-U-double F matchups. The team is in the midst of a grueling sixteen game stretch against opponents who are .500 or better on the season, a mind-boggling run that won’t ease up any until the Magic see Houston just before Christmas. They kick things off this week with a road back-to-back complete with an international leg, with tilts against both Cleveland and Toronto looking like long shots. They then catch the Bucks and the Clippers at home, each of whom will be coming off road dates against the Hornets; it’s conceivable that both opponents steal an opportunity to rest some key guys against what are relative minnows, but will it be Charlotte or Orlando who potentially benefit from fortuitous load management?
The crystal ball says …
0-4. Even with some of the wounded cavalry returning, it’s hard to muster the optimism needed to project a Magic victory this week against heavy-hitting opposition.
It’s time to keep an eye on …
Victor Wembanyama. A winless week has sent the Magic spiraling to the absolute bottom of the league’s standings, their 5-17 record now worse than even the seemingly moribund Pistons. They’ve lost six on the trot with a brutal stretch still awaiting, and if it weren’t for the woebegone Spurs it would be a streak of futility currently twice as long as what any other team is suffering through. Their points differential has collapsed and now resides in the bottom five, they have the fewest road wins in the league, and the defense appears to be in absolute disarray. It’s difficult to see how the team turns this around … if they even want to.
With a seemingly generational talent already looming over next year’s draft proceedings, bad teams have as much incentive as ever to stink it up on the court. The Magic – who, remember, are inaccurate, somewhat ill-fitting, and inevitably injured by design – have already effectively lost whatever tenuous grasp they had on this campaign. Why not embrace the headstart they’ve already snagged in the race to the bottom?
Last year the East’s final play-in participant notched 43 wins; for the Magic to match that pace they’d have to go 38-22 the rest of the way – a win percentage that only a half-dozen teams are currently exceeding. Even if it’s a more forgiving affair this season – say, the 34 wins that were required by the Spurs in the West last year – Orlando would still need to be a .500 team across the final 60 games. It would be easy to look at the standings today and see that the Magic are sitting only five games out of the tenth spot, but five wins is all that the team has managed to accumulate in six weeks of basketball. Betting on the ability to make that ground up would take some guts.
Orlando doesn’t need deliberately nefarious decision-making to ensure favorable positioning in the Tank-O-Rama for Wembanyama. This is already a pretty limited basketball team, and a tough remaining schedule will ensure the losses continue to pile up. The circumstances are, however, an unappetizing pill for loyal fans of the franchise to swallow, who have now suffered through some variation of rebuilding for basically an entire decade. Winning the 2022 lottery promised to set this team on a brighter path, but it turns out that the Magic’s journey back to relevance has a few more steps still to go. Although it unfortunately feels all too familiar, it’s probably time to start keeping a closer eye on the ping pong balls.
Three from downtown
- Now when I close my eyes and envision a perfect world I see only replays of Franz Wagner Euro-slow-stepping his way past a stunned Kevin Durant.
- Has Cole Anthony ever managed to pick up 3 fouls in the first 4 minutes of a game before? It seems almost inconceivable that he’ll ever replicate what he did in the opening salvo of his return against the Hawks.
- In 74 minutes of action since returning from injury, 6-10 Paolo Banchero has totaled just 4 defensive rebounds. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to say that the rookie is the cause of the team’s problems on the glass, but he does need to contribute more to the solution.
A figure for thought
.518. The collective strength of schedule the Magic face the rest of the way, the most difficult in the league.