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3 things to watch – The Mercury News

The Orlando Magic’s 2022 can be defined in two words: Patient Progress.

Progression hasn’t always been linear, with no shortage of bumps in the road largely due to injuries and player availability. But the Magic took significant steps forward last year.

They have won 33.7% of their 83 games in 2022 (28-54) after winning 21.5% of their 96 games in 2021 (17-79). Look even closer and you’ll see a general increase in the monthly payout percentage ending December 8-7.

It was the first time the Magic had posted a winning record for a month since December 2020 (4-1). It was also the first time they won at least 50% of their games in a month (minimum 10 games played) since February 2020 (6-6) and won more than 50% of games in a month (minimum 10 games played). ) since March 2019 (9-5).

The Magic are 13-24 heading into Wednesday’s home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were 7-29 when the schedule went from 2021 to 22 last season, not winning their 13th game until February 8.

There has been individual progress in this bump to win.

Wendell Carter Jr. has taken off and established himself as a big man of high caliber. Franz Wagner, the No. 8 pick in the 2021 draft, shone in his first season and made significant progress in the second year. Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 pick in the June draft who was named the East’s December rookie of the month, has shown the first signs of being a perennial All-Star.

Several other young players have impressed at times throughout 2022.

“I just keep building and growing,” coach Jamahl Mosley replied when asked if he had a New Year’s resolution for the team. “That’s the only thing these guys have to keep figuring out. We continue to grow. We are always working to improve ourselves and to create this continuity between us.

Here are three Magic-related things to watch in 2023:

Another winning push?

The Magic had a good December but ended the month and 2022 poorly, losing three straight games to the Los Angeles Lakers (December 27), Detroit Pistons (December 28) and Washington Wizards (December 30) .

With several players making a comeback in recent weeks — and a few more seemingly set to return — the Magic should be equipped to make a run at one of the postseason play-in tournament spots.

“We’re ready to do this race and do what we have to do,” Jalen Suggs said after practice on Tuesday. “We have already shown that it is possible. This standard is established. Now it’s about matching that every day.

The Magic were 3½ games behind the Washington Wizards for 10th place in the Eastern standings on Tuesday. Teams in places 7 through 10 compete in a qualifying tournament to determine the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in each conference’s playoff bracket.

The teams in 9th and 10th place in the standings – Atlanta Hawks (17-20) and Wizards – are on the verge of winning between 36 and 38 games.

With 45 games remaining, the Magic are close enough to press on one of those spots, but will need another push to not fall too far behind. They will likely need to go at least 23-22 to close out the season to have any chance of playing.

Continuity of the range

After having the most missed games in the league due to injuries and health and safety protocols, the Magic began to take a turn with player availability.

Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony returned from injury in late November, kicking off the December run. Carter and Gary Harris returned in the Dec. 23 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

The Magic will face a reduced roster on Wednesday due to suspensions stemming from the on-court altercation with the Pistons, but are expected to be fuller for Thursday’s home game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Kevon Harris, Admiral Schofield and Franz Wagner will serve their one-game suspensions on Wednesday while Moe Wagner will serve the second game of his suspension.

Bol Bol will not be available after being placed in health and safety protocols. Chuma Okeke remains out and is not expected to be reevaluated for at least two weeks after undergoing left knee surgery in mid-December.

Suggs (right ankle pain) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery) were fully involved in practices Monday and Tuesday, encouraging signs for their rehabilitation.

They won’t be available on Wednesday, but Mosley hasn’t ruled out either for Thursday. He said on Monday that there was no timetable yet for their return.

“I’ll give it some time to see how they react,” Mosley said.

Suggs has only played 14 games this season while Isaac hasn’t played since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the NBA bubble on August 2, 2020. There are more of 28 months.

“We have a lot of key players on this team,” Carter said. “I am delighted to be there with us. Hopefully we can bring them onto the pitch with us against other teams soon.

The nine players who will be available on Wednesday: Anthony, Banchero, Carter, Fultz, Gary Harris, Terrence Ross, Mo Bamba, Caleb Houstan and RJ Hampton.

Decisions on the list

The Magic will have several decisions to make before the Feb. 9 trade deadline or during the offseason.

The 2023-24 salaries of Bamba ($10.3 million), Bol ($2.2 million) and Gary Harris ($13 million) are not guaranteed and become fully guaranteed after June 30.

Ross is in the final season of the 4-year, $54 million contract he signed in the 2019 offseason and is expected to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Hampton will become an unrestricted free agent in July after the Magic did not exercise their fourth-year option for next season, while Moe Wagner is also set for unrestricted free agency in the offseason.

Fultz will enter the final season of the 3-year, $50 million contract extension he signed in December 2020. Only $2 million of his $17 million 2023-24 salary is guaranteed. It becomes fully guaranteed on July 1.

Both Anthony and Okeke will become eligible for rookie-wide contract extensions in July. They will have until the day before the start of the 2023-24 season to sign these extensions. If they don’t, they’ll be eligible for restricted free agency the following offseason.

The Magic could also have three draft picks this summer — their own first-round pick, the Chicago Bulls’ first-round pick (protected for picks 1-4) and their own second-round pick.

How the trade deadline unfolds and the end of the 2022-23 season will influence offseason decisions.

This article first appeared on Email Khobi Prize to or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.


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