- The Magic had several chances to advance to the final eight in the in-season tournament, but nothing went their way Tuesday night, per Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel. Orlando could have won East Group C with a Toronto victory over Brooklyn or a Boston win over Chicago by fewer than 22 points. The Magic also had a chance at a wild card if Miami had won at Milwaukee or New York had beaten Charlotte by fewer than four points. Orlando wound up getting eliminated despite a 3-1 record and a +22 point differential.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday for the first time since breaking a bone in his left hand nearly four weeks ago, Magic center Wendell Carter Jr. admitted that he was frustrated at the time of the injury, knowing he would likely be facing an extended absence. However, he’s in better spirits now after having his cast removed, writes Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel (subscription required).
“Today was probably one of the best days of my life,” Carter said on Tuesday. “When [the doctor] was saying I didn’t have to wear the cast anymore, it was like, ‘OK, it’s another step in the right direction.’ I’m just super excited just to finally get back out there at some point and help this team continue to win.”
According to Beede, Carter expects it will be about two weeks before he gets the green light from team doctors to resume practicing in full. The former seventh overall pick has been replaced by Goga Bitadze, who has started the past 12 games in the middle for the Magic. As Beede writes, Orlando hasn’t missed a beat during that time, improving its record to 12-5, and Carter has enjoyed watching the team’s success from the sidelines.
“We’re one of those teams that can hold their own against any team in this league,” he said. “Being able to sit on the sidelines and watch the joy that everyone’s playing with, [it] just gives me extra confidence, extra motivation so when I come back I’ll be able to play with that same joy and confidence as they are.”
Here are a few more notes on the Magic:
- Magic point guard Markelle Fultz will miss a 10th consecutive game on Wednesday due to left knee tendinitis. Fultz hasn’t played since November 9 and has only appeared in one game this month, but head coach Jamahl Mosley indicated on Tuesday that he’s “coming along,” per Beede (Twitter link). “We’re going to constantly see how he reacts to just what is happening each day,” Mosley said. “And he’s progressing. We’re just going to continue to evaluate as we go day-to-day with him.”
- Chuma Okeke is a name to monitor as a possible trade candidate this season, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, who notes that teams like the Cavaliers, Suns, Bucks, and Nuggets have expressed exploratory interest in Okeke in the past. The fourth-year forward, who will be eligible for restricted free agency in 2024, is considered a good locker room presence and a hard worker, Scotto adds.
- Speaking to Marc J. Spears of Andscape, Mosley said the camaraderie and selflessness among the Magic players is one reason why he was confident about the team’s outlook coming into this season. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve been around because it is a genuine care for the next guy,” Mosley said. “… And there was a joy for whoever was successful on any given night. There was never a thing like, ‘Oh, that guy’s got it going, now I need to get mine.’ It was like, ‘Oh man, I’m so proud of you. Keep doing your thing.’ No matter who it was. And that speaks volumes for a younger group.”
- Both Spears and Josh Robbins of The Athletic took a closer look at the Magic’s hot start this season. Winners of seven straight games, Orlando ranks second in the NBA with a 107.0 defensive rating. “Coach Mos, I give him credit, he came in from training camp saying he wanted to be a No. 1-caliber defensive team in the league,” Paolo Banchero said. “That is what we have been so far. Give huge credit to the coaches for instilling that in us and the players for executing it.”
The NBA in-season tournament will reach the quarterfinal stage next week and the eight qualifiers and their seeds were finalized on Tuesday. The 22 teams that failed to advance had two holes in their schedules that needed to be filled.
Those matchups were determined late Tuesday evening, with each team receiving a home and away contest, NBA Communications tweets. The newly-scheduled games will take place next Wednesday (December 6) and Friday (Dec. 8).
The Cavaliers and Magic, who missed the quarterfinals despite their 3-1 tournament records, will face each other in Cleveland on Wednesday. Cleveland will then visit the Heat (2-2 tournament) on Friday.
The Nets, who also had a 3-1 tournament record, wound up with a road game against the Hawks (1-3) and home game against the Wizards (0-4)
The Sixers, who finished 2-2 in the tournament, drew a road game against the Wizards and a home game against the Hawks.
In the West, the Timberwolves were the only 3-1 tournament team that didn’t reach the quarterfinals. They’ll host the Spurs (0-4) and visit the Grizzlies (0-4).
The defending champion Nuggets will visit Los Angeles to face the Clippers (1-3), then head home to take on the Rockets (2-2). The Warriors, who were knocked out of contention by Sacramento on Tuesday, drew a home game against the Trail Blazers (1-3) and a road contest against the Thunder (1-3).
Here’s the full schedule for next Wednesday and Friday:
Wednesday, Dec. 6
- Orlando at Cleveland
- Memphis at Detroit
- Miami at Toronto
- Philadelphia at Washington
- Brooklyn at Atlanta
- San Antonio at Minnesota
- Charlotte at Chicago
- Oklahoma City at Houston
- Utah at Dallas
- Portland at Golden State
- Denver at LA Clippers
Friday, Dec. 8
- Toronto at Charlotte
- Detroit at Orlando
- Atlanta at Philadelphia
- Washington at Brooklyn
- Cleveland at Miami
- Minnesota at Memphis
- Golden State at Oklahoma City
- Chicago at San Antonio
- Houston at Denver
- LA Clippers at Utah
- Dallas at Portland
Two more regular season games will be added to the NBA’s schedule after the quarterfinals of the in-season tournament are complete, since the four teams that lose those matchups will require an 82nd game on their respective schedules.
Booker, who won for the Western Conference, led Phoenix to a 4-0 week. He averaged 30.3 points, 7.8 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 block on .481/.429/.902 shooting in his four appearances, including a game-winning three-pointer over the Knicks on Sunday. The Suns have won seven straight and currently hold an 11-6 record.
Banchero, the East’s winner, guided Orlando to a perfect 4-0 week. The 2023 Rookie of the Year averaged 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.0 block on .544/.526/.625 shooting in four games, including victories over Denver and Boston. Like the Suns, the Magic have also won seven consecutive games, and are now 12-5.
According to the NBA (Twitter links), the other nominees in the West were Anthony Davis, Anthony Edwards, Paul George, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerami Grant and Brandon Ingram, while Jarrett Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Spencer Dinwiddie, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Banchero’s teammate Franz Wagner were nominated in the East.
Magic players were calculating their chances of advancing out of the East’s Group C after beating the Celtics on Friday to improve to 3-1 in the in-season tournament, writes Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel. Paolo Banchero admitted the team wasn’t fully focused on the tourney when it lost its opening game against Brooklyn, but the attitude has been different in three straight victories against Chicago, Toronto and Boston.
Orlando has a strong shot at winning its group and reaching the knockout round, but things could still change on Tuesday, Beede adds. The Magic will advance if the Nets lose to the Raptors or if the Celtics beat the Bulls by fewer than 23 points while Brooklyn wins by fewer than 14.
“You want to go to Vegas (for the semifinals and finals), right? You want to compete,” Moritz Wagner said. “You can tell people care. It’s really cool and it kind of tests us early, how poised are we in those last three minutes (and) how focused are you in the beginning of the year. I’ve really enjoyed it, honestly.”
There’s more from the Southeast Division:
- Magic guard Markelle Fultz will miss his ninth straight game on Sunday against Charlotte, Beede tweets. Fultz hasn’t played since November 9 because of tendinitis in his left knee, although he recently resumed individual workouts. Fultz began the season as Orlando’s starting point guard, but he has only been healthy for five games.
- Ryan Rollins will be evaluated weekly for a right knee strain, the Wizards announced via Twitter. The second-year guard has missed the past two games, and the team explained that it is opting to handle the injury conservatively. Rollins has appeared in eight games, averaging 4.0 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 6.1 minutes per night.
- Hornets center Mark Williams has been one of the early surprises of the 2023/24 season, per Frank Urbina of HoopsHype. Heading into Wednesday night, Charlotte was 22.6 points per 100 possessions better when Williams was on the court. He’s averaging 13.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game and has formed a connection with LaMelo Ball that is helping him shoot better than 70% within five feet of the basket. Coach Steve Clifford believes Williams can expand his offense to eventually become a three-point threat. “Then the big key for him offensively is running the floor, screening, rolling, and eventually, he’ll be a three-point shooter,” Clifford said. “I don’t have any questions about that. I don’t know if it’ll be here early in the year. This is where the thumb injury set him back a little bit. But he’s a lot more instinctive offensively than I realized when we first got him.”
The Nuggets, Bulls, Raptors, Thunder, Clippers and Mavericks were all eliminated from the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament in the group stage following Friday’s game results, marking 12 total teams out of contention.
The Pacers and Lakers remain the only two teams to clinch spots in the quarterfinals so far, with six more spots up for grabs. The final day of group stage play is Tuesday, Nov. 28 and the quarterfinals will take place on Dec. 4 and 5.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps took a look at all the action from Friday, which featured numerous upsets that set the stage for some interesting scenarios to play out. By beating Detroit on Friday, Indiana won East Group A and guaranteed a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks–Heat game on Tuesday dictates who earns the top overall seed in the East. If the Bucks win, Milwaukee is the conference’s top seed, but if Miami wins, it will be the Pacers. A Miami loss eliminates the Heat.
If the Heat and Knicks win, there will be a three-way tiebreaker between Miami, Milwaukee and New York that is determined by point differential. In that scenario, the Heat would have to beat the Bucks by eight more points than the Knicks beat the Hornets on Tuesday in order to have a chance.
Orlando defeated Boston on Friday, meaning the Magic‘s chances of winning East Group C are bolstered. With the Raptors and Bulls eliminated, the Celtics, Magic and Nets are competing for that group.
The Suns‘ win over Memphis in their final group stage game helped them take steps toward securing a wild-card spot, finishing their games at 3-1 with a plus-34 point differential. The Lakers play in West Group A alongside the Suns and, given the wild card team plays the top seed, it’s likely they’ll face off against each other in the quarterfinals. The only way the Lakers don’t earn the West’s top seed is if the Kings beat the Warriors on Tuesday by 46 or more points.
West Group B got shaken up with the Rockets upsetting and eliminating the Nuggets on Friday, and the Pelicans are now the runaway favorite to win the group, according to Bontemps. The Pelicans beat the Clippers, eliminating them, and improving to 3-1. The Pelicans are not in front of the Suns for the wild card spot and will need the Rockets to lose in order to clinch the group.
The Kings are looking like a top contender for the tournament title, sitting at 3-0 and plus-29. If the Kings beat the Warriors on Tuesday, they advance. If both Sacramento and Minnesota lose, the Warriors win the group. If both Golden State and Minnesota win, it sets up a three-way tie to be decided by point differential. The Warriors are plus-5 and the Timberwolves are minus-3.
Any team that makes the quarterfinals clinches per-player bonuses worth at least $50K. The value of those bonuses would increase to $100K if they advance to the semifinals, $250K if they make the final, and $500K if they win the entire tournament.
The full in-season tournament standings can be found here.
Raptors forward Scottie Barnes has playing his best pro basketball yet for Toronto this season, but the club still needs to determine how to maximize his unique skill set, opines Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca.
Grange notes that Barnes has shown marked growth following an at-times disengaged sophomore season in 2022/23. Barnes’ multifaceted game and positional flexibility make him an intriguing young star in the making, albeit one who needs well-curated help to flourish.
“[His versatility] is good but at the same time it’s a problem because he has so many traits, so many things that he can do on a higher level,” head coach Darko Rajakovic said.
Through 15 games this season, Barnes is averaging 19.7 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.7 SPG and 1.3 BPG.
There’s more out of Toronto:
- Former Raptors GM Jeff Weltman was let out of his contract with Toronto in order to assume the mantle of Magic team president in 2017. In the intervening seasons, it’s become clear that Weltman is taking a lot of the lessons he learned under the tutelage of Raptors president Masai Ujiri to heart, writes Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca. Murphy sees several parallels between the constructions of both rosters. When drafting, both teams prioritize size and length, forgoing normal conceptions of position in favor of athletes with epic wingspans. That said, Eric Koreen of The Athletic opines that the Raptors’ forwards aren’t getting enough personnel help elsewhere from the front office.
- When the Raptors appeared to be slipping early in the 2023/24 season, All-Star power forward Pascal Siakam did his best to steer the club away from a possible return to the bad vibes of last year’s lottery team, writes Koreen in a separate piece. Siakam’s aggressive and prolific play has helped paper over some careless in-game errors from his teammates, Koreen notes.
- Raptors forwards Thaddeus Young and Precious Achiuwa are both questionable to play in Friday’s matchup against the Bulls, reports Murphy (Twitter link). Young has an illness, while Achiuwa is dealing with a knee injury.
Magic starting point guard Markelle Fultz has missed seven straight games with left knee tendinitis, and it appears for now he’s still being limited to individual workouts, per Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel (Twitter link).
“We’ll continue to evaluate him on a daily basis to see how he responds to the treatment that he’s getting,” head coach Jahmal Mosley said. “…[We’ve] practiced once, which I think you saw him the other day on the court, [he was] doing some individual work with our guys. That’s the extent of what he’s doing.”
When healthy, the 6’4″ vet has produced, averaging 11.4 PPG, 4.0 APG, 3.4 RPG and 1.2 SPG across five games for Orlando.
There’s more out of the Southeast Division:
- Magic rookie lottery pick Jett Howard starred in his first game with Orlando’s NBAGL affiliate, the Osceola Magic. He notched 34 points, including seven made triples, per Alex Kennedy of Basketball News (via Twitter). “The G League is a lot of fun,” Howard said. “My teammates made the game easy for me. Getting reps in with these guys during Orlando’s training camp made it a seamless transition. It’s been great to be part of winning teams with the Magic.”
- Wizards rookie forward Bilal Coulibaly‘s growth is already impressing head coach Wes Unseld Jr., writes Ava Wallace of The Washington Post. “He’s done really well with the amount that we’ve thrown at him,” Unseld said. “The opportunity is probably something he’s dreamed of, so he seems like he’s in a great place. We always talk about the potential of a rookie wall, whether that’s physically or mentally, but he’s not showing any sign of that. He’s just attacking each day. He’s showing a lot of consistency in his work, and that’s paying dividends on the floor.” The 6’6″ wing was selected with the seventh pick in this June’s draft. He’s averaging 8.4 PPG on .506/.439/.619 shooting, along with 3.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.9 SPG and 0.8 BPG.
- Heat All-Star center Bam Adebayo and swingman Duncan Robinson are both questionable to suit up against the Knicks on Friday, per Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel (Twitter link). Adebayo is dealing with a hip injury, while Robinson is suffering through a thumb ailment.
“I felt good and I’ve just been trying to do a better job of getting my rest when I need it,” Isaac said. “I definitely feel like my legs are getting back under me and I’m starting to just run free and jump free out there.”
Isaac, who missed two whole seasons — 2020/21 and ’21/22 — while recovering from a torn ACL, was limited to 11 games last season. He has already exceeded that total in ’23/24, appearing in 13 of Orlando’s 15 contests, including Wednesday’s vs. Denver — the second of another back-to-back set.
Still just 26 years old, Isaac is averaging a modest 13.7 minutes per night off the bench. But he’s recording 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steal per game in those limited minutes, and his coach and teammates have lauded Isaac’s defensive abilities, referring to him as “special” and “amazing” on that end of the court, according to Beede.
“He’s our defensive anchor,” guard Gary Harris said. “And we still have guys out right now so we can be a very scary team defensively, especially when everybody gets healthy.”
The 9-5 Magic have the top defense in the league early on this season, holding a 106.4 defensive rating. With Isaac on the court, that figure drops to a remarkable 94.0.
Here’s more from the Southeast:
- Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports details how Franz Wagner and Moritz Wagner — brothers who won a gold medal at the World Cup with the German national team — are helping turn the Magic into a possible playoff contender. “It was purely about, how can we all come together and do something that’s greater than each individual by themselves?” Franz said of the World Cup. “I think we’re creating that same vibe here in Orlando.”
- P.J. Washington has started for most of his five-year career with the Hornets, but he was moved to the bench once Miles Bridges returned from a suspension. He took the move in stride, per Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer. “At the end of the day it’s a team game,” Washington said. “When we win, we win as team and when we lose, we lose as a team. For me, I just try to come out here and try to be a professional and do whatever coach asks me to do. Whether it’s play the ‘5’ play the ‘3,’ play the ‘4.’ I’m just trying to do everything I can to win. It’s as simple as that.” Washington was a late scratch for Wednesday’s game against the Wizards due to right foot discomfort, the Hornets announced (via Twitter).
- Heat center Bam Adebayo was ruled out of Wednesday’s game against Cleveland due to hip discomfort, tweets Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel. With Kevin Love also out for personal reasons, Miami turned to Thomas Bryant and Orlando Robinson to man the middle.
While Embiid has been frequently impacted by injuries over the course of his career, there’s no indication at this point that his hip issue is a cause for any real concern. Wednesday’s contest is the second night of a back-to-back set and it will be the first game that the reigning MVP has missed this season. He played 41 minutes in Tuesday’s overtime loss to Cleveland.
Here are a few more injury-related notes from around the NBA:
- Nets guard Ben Simmons (back nerve impingement) is making progress in his recovery and has begun “light individual court work,” but he’ll be sidelined for at least seven-to-10 more days, the team announced today in a press release. Brooklyn offered a more positive update on Cam Thomas, who has made “significant improvement” in his recovery from a left ankle sprain and has been cleared for increased on-court work. He’s expected to be integrated into team activities next week, according to the club. Guard Dennis Smith Jr., meanwhile, is day to day with a lower back sprain.
- Kings forward Trey Lyles, who has yet to play this season due to a left calf strain, appears to be on the verge of his season debut. According to Chris Biderman of The Sacramento Bee, Lyles is expected to be active on Wednesday vs. New Orleans, while Keegan Murray (lower back soreness) will likely be ruled out. Both players were listed as questionable in the NBA’s most recent injury report.
- Magic guard Markelle Fultz is unavailable for a seventh straight game on Wednesday vs. Denver due to left knee tendinitis, tweets Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel.
- In addition to missing Donovan Mitchell for the past three games, the Cavaliers have also been without Caris LeVert, who is dealing with knee soreness, for their past two contests, tweets Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. The Cavs haven’t missed a beat without the two guards, however, and are currently riding a four-game winning streak.