With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
With a momentary pause to regular season proceedings, game tape and traditional boxscores are not where our weekly winner will be drawn from. Instead, the league’s mid-season showcase, the All-Star Game and its associated weekend events, offered a hopeful glimpse of things to come for the Magic.
Despite being the worst team in the league by record, Orlando was healthily represented this weekend past. The youthful triumvirate of Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony all put in an appearance, speaking well of the potential on the team’s roster with their individual showings in the Rising Stars challenge. Wagner recorded the tournament sealing basket, Suggs balled out with a mixture of dunks and long bombs, while Anthony was willing to sacrifice everything – including his pants – in the search for victory.
These events ultimately don’t mean much in the context of winning championships, but one would still rather their team be involved and recognized than conspicuously absent. The Magic will now be hoping that one from among this young trio continues on an upward trajectory in their development, eventually earning a nod for the main event and not just the undercard. This weekend was undoubtedly an acknowledgement that the team’s rebuild has taken a tentative step in the right direction, but there remains a lot of distance to cover still.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Rockets (tonight); vs Pacers (Mon); vs Pacers (Wed)
Well, this is it. With only 22 games remaining on the schedule, this week’s trifecta of showdowns figures to be the team’s last – and first? – real chance at a seven-day perfect record. At no other point will they be lining up against teams this close to them in the standings, with the 20-40 Pacers representing the pick of the bunch. Appointment viewing this schedule is not.
For anyone brave enough to watch, what will be difficult to ignore is the fact that these games are made up entirely of teams both built and looking to lose. Indiana quietly pulled off a soft reset of sorts at the trade deadline, shipping out a former All-Star big for the intoxicating Tyrese Haliburton and creating some clarity around their direction moving forward, even if it did signal a white flag on the current campaign. The Rockets, meanwhile, didn’t do anything nearly as drastic, but with five fewer wins in comparison and a losing streak already at 7 – their third of at least that length this season – they certainly weren’t as compelled to do so.
So will Orlando take advantage of this dip in opposition quality and soar to heights previously not experienced this season? In short, probably not. As dispiriting as Indiana and Houston may be, it would be disingenuous not to point out that they’ve both been better than the Magic. The Pacers have seven more wins and a significantly healthier point differential, while the Rockets remain a couple of victories ahead and enjoyed an earlier stretch where they rattled off seven consecutive wins (Orlando, by comparison, has scored back-to-back Ws just twice all season). A team is really only as good as their results, and both opponents have more form on the board than the Magic.
Still, it would be shocking to see Orlando consigned to another winless week, particularly with the added advantage of home court. The team has been too inconsistent and too ineffective to make betting three on the trot a winning play, but nothing in the middle of those two extremes would register as a shocking outcome.
The crystal ball says …
In keeping with the team’s general inconsistency, a win followed by a loss followed by a win seems like a reasonable expectation of the week. It would also create further consternation about the team’s lottery odds, which is another classic Magic fandom experience for this stage of the season. Lock it in.
The next week is an important one for …
Jalen Suggs. The rookie guard was already trending in the right direction after returning from the wrist injury that kept him on the shelf for approximately six weeks, but it sure would be good to see him take another decisive step before the season wraps for good. The Magic figure to have a glut of backcourt talent all in need of minutes in the reasonably near future, and some confidence regarding who the best long-term fits are can only help make the rebuilding process a more effective one. Now is the time for Orlando to figure out what a team in his image really looks like.
A figure for thought
34.2 – the combined percentage of games that Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz have appeared in since making their debuts in 2017.