Magic Rumors

Latest On Isaac; Bamba Bulked Up During Layoff

The prospects for Magic forward Jonathan Isaac playing during the league restart are improving, Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel writes. Isaac, who hasn’t played since he injured his left knee on New Year’s Day, hasn’t been allowed in contact drills yet but he is participating in other team drills. He’s “optimistic” about returning, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link). “I have no reservations in my mind about it,” Isaac said. “If I’m ready to play and if I get the clearance, I’m ready to go.”

  • Magic big man Mohamed Bamba used the time off to bulk up, he told Hays in a separate Orlando Sentinel story. “My mentality the whole entire time we were quarantined was to gain an inch every day and it really took, literally, every day going through it to get to where I am,” Bamba said. “It took changing my diet, it took intense workouts and it took leaning on the Magic’s strength and conditioning staff to provide a plan for me.”

Community Shootaround: Western Conference Seeding

As we detailed on Friday when we discussed the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, there will be an opportunity for teams to move up – or down – in the standings when play resumes on July 30.

With eight “seeding games” on tap, teams are unlikely to make up five- or six-game deficits on the clubs ahead of them in the standings, but there’s a strong likelihood of a shake-up in instances where teams are only separated by a game or two.

That’s even more true in the Western Conference than it is in the East, albeit not necessarily at the very top of the standings, where the 49-14 Lakers hold a fairly comfortable lead on the 44-20 Clippers. The Lakers’ magic number to clinch the conference is just three, so they’re a safe bet to hang onto the No. 1 seed.

After that though, there’s some congestion in the standings. The Clippers’ lead on the Nuggets (43-22) is just 1.5 games. Denver holds an identical lead over the Jazz (41-23). Utah, meanwhile, is just a couple losses away from slipping down to the No. 6 seed, as the Thunder (40-24) and Rockets (40-24) are right on their heels. The 40-27 Mavericks round out this group of six teams, a game-and-a-half behind OKC and Houston and just 5.5 games behind the second-seeded Clippers.

A number of those six clubs bunched up in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture will face one another when play resumes. For instance, the Thunder – who have the potential to move up or down a couple spots in the standings – will open the restart against the Jazz and Nuggets and eventually finish their season against the Clippers. The Clips will face the Mavericks and Nuggets in addition to OKC. Dallas opens its eight seeding games by playing the Rockets.

Given the strength of competition in the West, seeding could be paramount in the postseason. The Nuggets, for example, could conceivably face the Jazz, Thunder, Rockets, or Mavs in the first round and would likely prefer some opponents to others in that group. The Jazz, currently at No. 4, could be motivated to avoid the No. 6 Rockets in the first round, since they’ve been eliminated by Houston in each of the previous two postseasons.

At the bottom of the playoff picture, the No. 8 Grizzlies (32-33) have essentially no chance to move up, since they’re seven games back of Dallas. But they’ll be looking to increase their lead over the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns — if they can finish with more than a four-game lead on all those clubs, they’ll avoid a play-in tournament. If the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds finish within four games of one another, a play-in tournament will be necessary to determine that final playoff spot.

A newly-healthy Blazers squad will be a major threat to the Grizzlies, as will a Pelicans team that faces one of the league’s weakest schedules over the course of the eight seeding games.

What do you think? Do you think we’ll see much movement in the Western Conference’s top eight? Will the Grizzlies be knocked out by one of the challengers behind them in the standings? What do you expect the West’s top eight seeds to look like by the time the playoffs begin?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your predictions!

Community Shootaround: Eastern Conference Seeding

Although the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference will still be up for grabs when the NBA’s eight “seeding” games begin on July 30, that race has lost much of its luster as a result of the injuries, COVID-19 cases, and opt-outs that have decimated the Nets‘ and Wizards‘ rosters.

Technically, the Magic (30-35) are the No. 8 seed at the moment, but they’re just a half-game back of Brooklyn (30-34) for the No. 7 spot and seem likely to pass a Nets team that will be without at least seven players, including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, and DeAndre Jordan.

That would leave the Nets to hang onto the No. 8 seed by holding off the Wizards (24-40), who will be missing Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, and John Wall, but could force a play-in tournament if they finish within four games of Orlando or Brooklyn. Washington is also currently without Thomas Bryant (coronavirus), Gary Payton II (coronavirus), and Garrison Mathews (personal), though some or all of those players may eventually rejoin the team.

While that race for the seventh and eighth seeds may not be quite as dramatic as the NBA would like, there could still be some interesting jockeying for position further up the standings in the East.

The 53-12 Bucks have a 6.5-game cushion over the 46-18 Raptors, so Milwaukee will likely clinch the top seed even if they’re on cruise control during the seeding games. But Toronto’s lead on the third-seeded Celtics (43-21) is just three games, and Boston’s eight-game schedule looks less daunting than the Raptors’ slate.

Five of the Celtics’ eight games are against the Nets, Wizards, Magic, Grizzlies, and Trail Blazers, all of whom are at or near the bottom of the playoff race. The Raptors, meanwhile, will face Orlando and Memphis, but also have games against the Lakers, Heat, Nuggets, Sixers, and Bucks. The Celtics and Raptors face each other as well, in a game that will have important tiebreaker implications.

That No. 2 seed isn’t as important as it once was, given the lack of home court advantage available, but it could mean facing the Magic instead of the Pacers, which should be a more favorable matchup even with Victor Oladipo sidelined.

Speaking of the Pacers, they’re currently tied at 39-26 with the Sixers, with the No. 5 seed up for grabs. Clinching that fifth seed would likely mean securing a first-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Heat instead of the Celtics or Raptors.

The Heat, meanwhile, are 41-24, putting them two games behind Boston and two games ahead of the Sixers and Pacers. They seem like a relatively safe bet to hold their position in the No. 4 vs. 5 matchup, but a hot or cold streak in Orlando could affect their spot in the standings, especially with games vs. Boston, Toronto, and Indiana (twice) on tap.

What do you think? What do you expect the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference to look like by the time the playoffs begin? Will they look relatively similar to the current standings, or will there be some shuffling that results in some unexpected first-round matchups?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!

Magic Notes: Coronavirus, Fultz, Aminu, Isaac

The Magic became the first team to report to the NBA’s Walt Disney World campus on Tuesday, but not all of the team’s players were in attendance. Here are a few of the latest updates on the Magic:

  • A player on the Magic – who hasn’t been identified – tested positive for COVID-19 and didn’t accompany the club to Disney, tweets Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. According to Nick Friedell of ESPN (Twitter link), president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said the Magic expect the player to rejoin the team once he’s cleared to do so.
  • Point guard Markelle Fultz has a non-coronavirus personal matter to address and has been excused from reporting to the NBA’s campus for now, according to Reynolds (Twitter links). He’s expected to rejoin the club at some point too.
  • Injured forward Al-Farouq Aminu didn’t travel with the team to Disney and is continuing his rehab work at the Magic’s practice facility, tweets Roy Parry of The Orlando Sentinel. It’s not clear whether Aminu still has a chance to return this season.
  • The Magic’s other injured forward, Jonathan Isaac, is with the club at the NBA’s Disney campus, notes Parry (Twitter link). Isaac continues to rehab the knee injury that has sidelined him since the start of January, but remains unlikely to play this summer. He’s at the stage where he can do a little light court stuff, but that’s about it,” Weltman said of Isaac, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Fournier Taking Relaxed Approach To Option

Magic swingman Evan Fournier doesn’t feel any pressure regarding his potential free agent status, Josh Robbins of The Athletic tweets. Fournier can become an unrestricted free agent if he declines his $17.15MM option. “As far as my free agency, I have no pressure at all, really, because I have my player option regardless,” he said. “So when the time comes, I’m just going to look at stuff and look at the numbers and make my decision.”

  • Jerian Grant has signed with the Wizards as a substitute player but the Magic retain some control over Grant beyond this season, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. Orlando, his former NBA team, still holds his Bird rights along with his free agent cap hold, Marks notes. The point guard spent the bulk of the season with Washington’s G League club, the Capital City Go-Go.

Clifford: No Decisions Yet On Isaac, Aminu

  • Magic head coach Steve Clifford still isn’t committing one way or the other on whether Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu will be available this summer, per Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link). Asked today about the two injured forwards, Clifford replied, “They’re both in here working every day. … I just think it’s really early to try to make an intelligent decision on anything like that.”

Magic's Schedule Has Two Crucial Games Against Nets

  • A pair of games with the Nets will go a long way toward determining whether the Magic can overtake Brooklyn for the seventh seed and avoid a daunting first-round match-up with Milwaukee, observes Josh Robbins of The Athletic“I think what’s going to help us the most is just being in better shape than the guys we’re going to play against,” Evan Fournier said. “I think that’s what it’s going to come down to. How fast can you get in shape? And how fast can you get together as a team? That’s what’s going to make the difference.”

Pelicans-Jazz Begins NBA Restart On July 30

The Pelicans and rookie star Zion Williamson will face the Jazz on July 30 at 6:30 p.m. ET in the first game of the NBA’s restart, the league announced on Friday.

There will be 88 “seeding” games from July 30 to August 14 prior to the postseason.

The Clippers will square off against the Lakers in the second game on July 30 at 9 p.m. ET. The first two games will be broadcast by TNT.

It will get very busy the next day with six games scheduled, highlighted by Celtics vs. Bucks and Rockets vs. Mavericks. There will be a maximum of seven games per day, with start times ranging from 12-9 p.m.

At the conclusion of the seeding games, the seven teams in each conference with the highest combined winning percentages across regular-season games and seeding games will be the first through seventh seeds for the conference playoffs.  If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage (regular-season games and seeding games) in a conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in the same conference, then the team with the eighth-best winning percentage would be the No. 8 seed.

If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage in a conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in the same conference, then those two teams would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the No. 8 playoff seed in the conference.  The play-in tournament will be double elimination for the eighth-place team and single elimination for the ninth-place team.

Much of the intrigue regarding the seeding games concerns the final Western Conference spot. The Grizzlies, currently eighth, hold a 3 1/2-game lead over the Trail Blazers, Pelicans and Kings, a four-game lead over the Spurs and a six-game advantage on the Suns.

Memphis will face the Blazers, Spurs, Pelicans, Jazz, Thunder, Raptors, Celtics and Bucks during the seeding round. Among the Grizzlies’ pursuers, the Pelicans appear to have the weakest schedule. After opening against the Jazz, they’ll face the Clippers, Grizzlies, Kings (twice), Wizards, Spurs and Magic.

The Nets and Magic need only to hold off the Wizards in the East to claim the final two spots in their conference. Washington trails Brooklyn by six games and Orlando by 5 1/2 games.

The breakdown of each team’s seeding schedule can be found here. The day-by-day schedule and national TV schedule can be found here.

Batum, DeRozan Among Players With Earlier Option Decision Deadlines

Most veterans who have player options in their contracts for the 2020/21 season will have an October 17 deadline to either exercise or decline that option. That Saturday represents the second-last day of the 2019/20 league year under the NBA’s new calendar, meaning it would coincide in a normal year with June 29, the usual player option decision deadline.

However, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, some of the players who have to make option decisions for 2020/21 have slightly earlier deadlines. For instance, if the Spurs don’t make the postseason, DeMar DeRozan will be required to make his decision within seven days of the team’s last game, per Marks.

The full list of player options for ’20/21 can be found on our free agents page, but here are the options which must be exercised or declined before October 17, according to Marks:

The rest of this season’s player option decisions must be made by October 17, a deadline that applies to nearly every team option for 2020/21 as well. The only team options with earlier decision dates are minimum-salary ones for Deonte Burton (Thunder) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Pistons), which are due by October 15, per Marks.

Southeast Notes: Fournier, Bertans, Gordon

Evan Fournier is not a fan of Wizards forward Davis Bertans sitting out of the NBA’s return. The Magic wing tweeted, “This is what’s wrong with the NBA nowadays” in response to the report that Bertans wasn’t going to Orlando.

Seriously tho. If you think its ok to sit and watch your teammates play while you re perfectly healthy its says a lot about you,” Fournier continued in a second tweet.

Bertans, who is one of multiple NBA players expected to sit out the resumed season in Florida, will be a free agent at the end of the season, though the Magic are not expected to have the cap space to make a reasonable offer to the 27-year-old power forward, so Fournier will not have to worry about Bertans joining his team.

Here’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Heat swingman Derrick Jones plans to play when the NBA returns, as Anthony Chang of The Miami Herald relays. Jones will hit free agency after the season and figures to be in line for a significant raise after earning the minimum during his first four NBA seasons.
  • Trading Aaron Gordon for a perimeter threat could be the best way to maximize the talent on the Magic, John Hollinger writes for The Athletic. Trading away Gordon would allow Jonathan Isaac more playing time.
  • Clint Capela, who was traded to the Hawks at the trade deadline, recently spoke about what it takes to win in the league, which is something he’ll look to help his young teammates learn. “The main goal is really to be a winning team, have this winning mentality, be able to night in, night out go get wins,” Capela said (via Sarah K. Spencer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). “…It doesn’t matter if you play good or bad, but you have to have that dog mentality to make stops, to at least get a win.”