With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
Once again, let’s raise our goggles to the Magic’s most consistently impactful performer, Wendell Carter Jr. He opened his week with a monster 30 and 16 to propel Orlando to a win over the Thunder, a feat he followed up by pacing the side with 19 and 8 as they stole an unexpected victory from the visiting Warriors. His play was so good, in fact, that it forced the Magic’s decision makers to conjure up some concerns about both wrists and ankles as a way of forcing the big man to the sidelines.
Carter Jr. has been tremendous in a trying season. He has posted career-best numbers in basically every major category, with the advanced metrics positively swelling when compared to his first four years. He’s welcomingly expanded his offensive game for the scoring-starved Magic, while his individual defensive numbers have held up favorably despite playing behind some porous perimeter-based teammates. In fact, he’s already turned the off-season contract he signed into a veritable team bargain, an outcome which figures to be handy for the Magic when the financial crunch of the current rebuild begins to be felt.
Despite Orlando’s unenviable position near to the very bottom of the league’s standings, there have been some unquestionably bright moments to shine this season. The increasingly metronomic production of WCJ has been chief among those, a fact highlighted by his stellar performances in the two contests in which he played this last week.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Kings (Sat); at Cavaliers (Mon); at Wizards (Wed)
Another three-game dance card and – somehow, someway – a chance at another winning week for the Magic. Neither the Kings nor the Wizards are really in the business of chasing victories at this point in another long season, while the Cavaliers have cooled off some in recent times, having gone just 5-5 in their last ten and .500 on the dot since January 30. Orlando, by comparison, is racking up Ws at a faster rate than any other point in their season, with three multi-game win streaks in the last month (after just one prior) and a perfectly square record of 7-7 since the All-Star break.
Does that mean the pinstriped posse are going to pull out a flawless week and continue their ascension to the … fourteenth seed in the East? It’s unlikely, both because the team’s recent winning ways have been aided by a slew of opposition absences – the Magic aren’t as suddenly improved as the record suggests – and because it doesn’t actually behoove our Central Floridians to bank too many victories now that the lottery odds are being eyed daily.
Still, it’s easy enough to envision Orlando continuing on at roughly their current pace, essentially trading wins and losses as we wind towards the finish line. Could they conquer the Kings? Sure! Could they dispel the Wizards? Why not?! Could they overrun the Cavaliers? I mean, I wouldn’t bet on it but such an outcome wouldn’t look as surprising in the record books as the earlier victories over Utah, Denver, Brooklyn, Chicago and Golden State.
Weird things can, will and have happened in the NBA. Maybe the Magic’s first undefeated week of the season is just the next in a long list.
The crystal ball says …
You’re right: I don’t buy it either. With tank controls on permanent standby for those times when the team starts to look a little too plucky (and lucky), a 1-2 record feels like the right outcome for the next seven days.
The next week is an important one for …
Franz Wagner. The rookie has emerged as a modern day iron man already, playing in all 74 of Orlando’s games to this point. It’s currently equal-tops league-wide, and leaves him as just one of seven-or-eight players to have not spent at least one evening in street clothes (the total depends on how you account for the game that Buddy Hield missed as his trade was being finalized). Whatever that figure happens to be, it’s already lower than last year’s historically minuscule number, a 72-game campaign in which just 11 players suited up for every opportunity. The notion of unimpeachable day-to-day durability simply isn’t a thing in the modern NBA.
So, considering that Orlando doesn’t have a whole heap left to play for and that the side figures to be unlikely to put a dent in any of the end-of-season voting races, Wagner’s search for a complete set of games played (and started) might just be the most fun thing left for fans of the Magic to root for. Let’s hope that the impressive youngster gets there!
A figure for thought
36 – the amount of points that the Thunder outscored the Magic by on Wednesday in 26 minutes without Franz Wagner on the court.