Extra Pass: Magic hoping to stop skid against Celtics

Published January 2, 2022, 3:00 PMMiguel Flores

The Magic are looking to end their four-game slide as they head to Boston to face the Celtics.

In the spirit of the New Year, why don't we start off fresh and take risks – at least with our choice for which NBA game to tune in to?

There's a lot of risk in waking up at 7:00 AM tomorrow morning to watch a game between the East's second-worst team in the Orlando Magic (7-29) and the frustrating Boston Celtics (17-19). But there could also be a huge payoff in flipping to NBA TV Philippines (via Smart GigaPlay app or Cignal TV) for your morning coffee.

For one, the Magic have been enduringly fun this season. Injuries and health protocols deflated what could have been a scary young Orlando squad with Cole Anthony, Mo Bamba, and Jalen Suggs missing time. The Magic, however, have more causes for optimism than just about any other Draft lottery team.

Mark Bamba's and Anthony’s remarkable leaps this season as boons for the Magic moving forward. Though Suggs hasn’t panned out yet, Orlando might have struck gold in Franz Wagner. The 2021 NBA Draft eighth overall pick has been one of the best rookies this season, averaging 15.8 points on 45 percent shooting with 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists. 

Wagner has drawn comparisons to former Magic swingman Hedo Turkoglu, only with more athletic pop. Against the Milwaukee Bucks four days ago, Wagner dropped 38 points, the most by a rookie this season so far.

Orlando deserves tons of credit for the haul they swung in the Nikola Vucevic trade. They not only got Wagner with a pick from the Chicago Bulls, they've also allowed Wendell Carter Jr. to flourish.

Coming into the 2018 Draft, Carter Jr. was touted for his superior potential as an inside scorer and defender. His time with the Bulls was a disaster as he had to deal with a fluid coaching situation that pushed him out of position.

In his fourth season, Carter Jr. is finding his stride with averages of 12.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. On both ends of the court, WCJ has been a rock for the Magic. He’s locked in a starting spot, even when the team gets fully healthy.

When all of Orlando’s main guys come back, they’ll have plenty of good problems. Aside from the aforementioned trio sitting, they still have Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac – two starter-caliber players under 25-years old – who have yet to play games this season. They also have a couple of veterans in Gary Harris and Terrence Ross, who could be flipped for draft picks from a playoff contender. We could have the Magic back in the playoffs in the next three years.

Just three years ago, the Boston Celtics made the Eastern Conference Finals on the backs of rookie Jayson Tatum and sophomore Jaylen Brown. They didn’t have either of their All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. They looked like the next dynasty.

Now, the Celtics are in limbo. There’s a vibe of dysfunction around Boston these days with players sniping at each other and their coaches through the media. There have been questions whether their new pair of All-Stars in Tatum and Brown can co-exist.

Yet, they still have the bones of a pretty good team. Those bones – without Tatum – beat the Phoenix Suns convincingly three days ago. They’re getting a renaissance season of sorts from Al Horford and they have a handful of reliable role players. At this point, it’s really up to Brown and Tatum to find a way to play together and salvage this season.

Both Tatum and Bamba are listed as questionable for the Celtics and Magic, respectively, for tomorrow’s game. We could get a Wagner or Brown explosion. There’s a solid chance for a close, up-tempo game. 

There are legitimate contenders playing on the same day, but the Magic vs. Celtics deserves a peek.