Close to home but so far away: NBA restart a strange experience for Magic

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The NBA restart has elements of strangeness for every team.

For the Orlando Magic, it’s most peculiar.

When they turn on the televisions in their rooms at Walt Disney World, they can watch their local newscasts. They’re only a few miles from their respective homes. And yet the Magic, like everyone else at the restart, are not able to see their families or friends for the next few weeks at least.

“I really don’t know what impact that will have, the fact that we’re local and we’re a half-hour drive from most of our homes,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “I honestly don’t know. Maybe that’ll help. Maybe it’ll be more distracting. I really don’t know.”

They’re about to find out.

Orlando is one of three teams competing for the last two Eastern Conference playoff spots and, on paper, figure to have a pretty strong chance. The Magic are a half-game behind No. 7 Brooklyn and 5-1/2 games clear of No. 9 Washington. If the Magic finish eighth and the ninth-place team is within four games of them when the seeding matchups end, they’ll go into a play-in series.

But Brooklyn’s roster has been decimated – there’s no five-man combination of Nets players at Disney that have played together for even five minutes this season – and Washington’s hopes of a playoff rally took a huge hit when Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, its two leading scorers, decided not to play in the restart.

“We have a chance obviously to get back into playoffs for the second year in a row, which would be a good accomplishment for us,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “And then I think that they want to get playing in a way that we can be a factor once the playoffs begin.”

Walt Disney World is about 20 miles away from Orlando’s arena, and it’s not like being at Disney is a foreign concept for the Magic. Disney has been a jersey sponsor for the Magic, and the franchise held training camps on the campus in 1997 and 2003.

The big question for the Magic is whether Jonathan Isaac, who hurt his left knee (a nasty sprain and bone bruise, though he didn’t require surgery) on Jan. 1, could return at some point during the seeding games or for the playoffs if Orlando gets there. Isaac does a little of everything for the Magic, especially on the defensive end.

The Magic have other players to watch.

Nikola Vucevic is Orlando’s best player and Evan Fournier is wildly underrated, but Terrence Ross might be the key to how far the Magic go this season. In the 10 games after the All-Star break, Ross was Orlando’s leading scorer at 22.2 points per game despite coming off the bench in all those contests. The Magic are 18-12 this season when Ross scores 15 or more points; they’re 11-22 when he scores 14 or less.