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GAME PREVIEW: Nets and Magic open the Friday NBA bubble schedule

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We’re back. When last we saw the Brooklyn Nets before the world froze, they pulled off the upset in Los Angeles against the Western Conference leading Lakers way back in March. Since then, the NBA has been on pause as we try to survive COVID-19. We don’t know how long the bubble will hold, but let’s cross our fingers and hope for the best for everyone in Florida and around the world.

The opponent today will be the Orlando Magic. Orlando’s been toughing it out this season and barring something incredibly unforeseen, will be back in the playoffs. Last time they had a game that counted, they beat the Memphis Grizzlies.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Daytime basketball so tip off will be after 2:30 PM. I’m not use to daytime basketball on a workday, so the early tip should be a nice entry into the weekend for us.

Going Virtual

While fans won’t be physically present in Orlando, Fla. for the remainder of the 2019-20 season, they will still have a chance to be featured during the broadcast, live on the “Michelob ULTRA Courtside” 17-foot video boards surrounding the court.

Select fans will have the opportunity to digitally interact with each other throughout the games using Microsoft’s “Together mode” to create a virtual experience by removing fans from their individual backgrounds and bringing them together in a shared visual space that will be seen through the broadcast and in the venue.

Taking over one of the virtual sections will be The BK Block, the diehard Nets fans who can be found in Section 114 during games at Barclays Center. Michelob ULTRA will give 32 fans a chance to win a virtual courtside ticket and be featured on the LED wall for the Nets games on Aug. 7 against the Sacramento Kings and Aug. 13 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Fans can visit www.ultracourtside.com and follow Michelob ULTRA’s social channels for details on how to win access as well as additional exclusive giveaways and experiences.

Injuries

This one’s gonna take a while. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Nicolas Claxton, and Wilson Chandler will not be suiting up for Brooklyn in the bubble. Nor will Michael Beasley. Jamal Crawford is working his way back into shape and is doubtful for this one. Rodions Kurucs (hip) probable.

Al-Farouq Aminu will not be playing for the Magic in the bubble. Aaron Gordon skipped the final scrimmage game due to soreness in his groin. He should be good to go tonight. Wes Iwundu is in concussion protocol after suffering a nasty fall in the scrimmage game against the Lakers. Jonathan Issac is back after being gone since January due to a knee injury.

The game

As a league, the NBA has been thinking of ways to address the racial injustices that have continued to harm the United States. The Nets will be making a statement as a team as will the Magic so it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with and how it will be received outside the bubble.

The Nets and Magic are battling for positioning at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Brooklyn is in seventh and up half a game over Orlando. Avoiding the Milwaukee Bucks is job one for a lot of people so this game will be incredibly important for both teams.

With Jordan out, there will be a lot of responsibility riding on Jarrett Allen’s shoulders. Allen had a decent season before the shutdown, and the Nets are going to need him to play huge minutes without getting into foul trouble. Brooklyn will be on the small side, so we’ll get plenty of time to watch Rodinis Kurucs play the five. He’s earned rave reviews from the team in camp, and notes:

“We just have to communicate to the guards and tell them everything what to do on defense. That was the hardest part for me, because I’m not used to talking as much in the defense because the bigs were talking. I have to get used to that, adjust to that.”

They’ll have their hands full with Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic has always given the Nets trouble over the years and if the past is prologue, he’s in line for another big game.

This bubble season will be a great opportunity for some guys to sketch out roles for themselves and make a case for being here when reinforcements come back next season. One person who figures to make the most out of this chance is Tyler Johnson. Johnson was almost a Net way back in the summer of 2016, but the Heat matched his contract offer and he resumed his career in Miami. As fate would have it, he’s finally made it to Brooklyn (well, Orlando technically, cuz... you know). A good showing over the next few weeks could help him land a nice role back with the full squad next season or a quality role elsewhere.

Player to watch: Markelle Fultz

It’s been an interesting time away for the former number one pick. When he came into the bubble, he went into quarantine. From there, he’s been working his way back into NBA game shape. He played seven minutes in Orlando’s scrimmage on Monday and will likely be on a minutes restriction to start the bubble games off. Prior to the suspension of the season, Fultz was having his best pro season and appears to have fixed most of what ailed him in Philadelphia. The good folks over at Orlando Pinstriped Post have more:

After playing in just 34 of 164 games over two seasons with the Sixers, Fultz has played in 64 of 65 games with the Magic, with his lone absence due to illness. Per 36 minutes, the 22-year-old point guard is averaging 15.3 points, 6.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds with an effective field goal percentage of 49.6. As for that elephant in the room, Fultz is shooting just 25.6 percent from three, on a meager 1.4 attempts per. Numbers that certainly impact the Magic’s spacing and need to be improved upon. In his last five games before the hiatus, Fultz averaged 15.4 points (58.2 EFG%) and 6.4 assists, telling the media on Monday that he felt he was in a “crazy rhythm.” The hope is that he regains that rhythm when play resumes.

That’s why you never give up on young players with potential.

It’s star time. With all of the big names for the Nets out, Caris Levert will have the keys to the offense. This game will be the first opportunity of many for Levert to showcase his game and ability to run the show. If you think back to last season’s playoffs vs the Sixers, we saw an early glimpse of what he can do when he’s at his best. Joe Harris is the team’s second scoring option, but look for Levert to have the ball in his hands A LOT. It’s a different level of responsibility when the defenses are geared up to focus on you as the main option.

From the Vault

Friend of the site Mike Prada wrote a great retrospective on Tracy McGrady in his newsletter, so with that in mind, let’s throw it back to his first playoff win

More reading: Orlando Pinstriped Post