The Orlando Magic (5-16) will be significantly healthier for Wednesday’s home game vs. the Atlanta Hawks (11-10).
Guards Markelle Fultz will be available to make his season debut while Cole Anthony will be available to return against the Hawks, a league source told the Orlando Sentinel Tuesday morning.
Terrence Ross, who missed Monday’s 109-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center because of an illness, will also be available.
The Sentinel’s reporting was confirmed when the Magic released their injury report, listing Wendell Carter Jr. (strained right plantar fascia strain), Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery), Jalen Suggs (right ankle soreness) and Chuma Okeke (left knee soreness) as out and Mo Bamba (back spasms) as questionable for Wednesday (7 p.m., Bally Sports Florida/Bally Sports+/FM 96.9 The Game).
Fultz has yet to play this season after fracturing his big left toe late in the offseason. He told the Sentinel on Nov. 9 that he was hoping to return “within the next 3-4 weeks” — a time frame of Wednesday-Dec. 7.
He was questionable to make his season debut in Sunday’s 133-103 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers but was ruled out pregame, with coach Jamahl Mosley saying “we’re just going to give it a couple of more days” when asked about Fultz’s status.
A couple of more days turned out to be three.
Anthony missed the last 16 games after exiting the Oct. 26 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers with a torn right internal oblique. He told the Sentinel Sunday that he expected to be back very soon but didn’t disclose a date. A source told the Sentinel earlier in the month there was optimism he’d return to play after Thanksgiving in late November/early December.
The improved player availability, especially with Anthony and Fultz, will be helpful for a Magic team that was without nearly half its roster Monday and has dealt with health issues all season. They’ve had at least five players sidelined each game and had 113 total player games missed to injury/illness — the most in the league.
The Magic have been especially thin at guard, with Anthony, Fultz, Suggs and Gary Harris missing a combined 61 games. Harris missed the season’s first 15 games because of left knee injury recovery after having an arthroscopic meniscectomy on his left knee in late August after tearing cartilage, which also forced him to miss training camp.
Fultz is entering the second season of a 3-year, $50 million contract ($35 million guaranteed) he signed with the Magic in December 2020.
He has a $16.5 million salary for 2022-23 that’s fully guaranteed, while $2 million of his $17 million salary is guaranteed for the 2023-24 season. Next season’s salary will become fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster past July 1.
Fultz’s injury struggles have limited his playing time (131 games in five seasons) since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft.
“I’ve been through so much,” he said. “I understand this process, be patient and listen to your body and when that time comes, just be ready for it.”
He played in just 33 games from 2017-19 with the 76ers because of a nerve issue in his right shoulder. He was dealt to the Magic ahead of the 2019 trade deadline.
Fultz’s healthiest season came with the Magic in 2019-20, when he played 72 games (60 starts) and averaged 12.1 points (46.5% shooting) and 5.1 assists in 27.7 minutes.
He missed most of the last two seasons because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee just eight games into the 2020-21 season.
After a 14-month absence, Fultz returned in a home win over the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 28 and averaged 10.8 points (47.4% shooting), 5.5 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 20 minutes (18 games).
He should provide the Magic with steady on-ball playmaking and open up off-ball scoring opportunities for several of his teammates.
Anthony, a third-year guard who the Magic drafted at No. 15 in 2020, led the Magic in scoring (16.3) and assists (5.7) last season.
He’s in the third year of a 4-year, $15.9 million rookie scale contract that has a fully guaranteed $3.6 million salary for this season. The Magic exercised the fourth-year team option on Anthony’s $5.5 million salary for 2023-24.
Anthony used the offseason to bulk up and work on his shooting/off-ball skillset but hadn’t been able to showcase the work he had put in because he went down with the injury early in the season and the other guard injuries the team was dealing with when he was available.
He averaged 15.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in four games (30.5 minutes) before his injury.
The Magic have used the first quarter of the season to experiment with rotations the best they could despite the inconsistent options.
They’re one of three teams along with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers who haven’t had a single five-man lineup play at least 70 minutes together.
Rookie forward Paolo Banchero and second-year forward Franz Wagner have been tasked with greater on-ball responsibilities because of the absences.
Banchero, the No. 1 pick in June’s draft, has averaged 22.9 points (46% shooting), 7.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 34.8 minutes and has a team-high usage rate of 29.3% in the 14 games he’s played — the 18th-highest mark among all players who’ve played at least 10 games.
Wagner, the No. 8 pick in the 2021 draft, has averaged 19.5 points (50% shooting), 4.1 rebounds and 4 assists and is second in usage rate at 24.7% after finishing last season at 20.8%. He and Bol Bol are the only two players who’ve played in every game.
The returns of Anthony and Fultz should open up off-ball opportunities for both young forwards as Mosley continues to test out new lineups that weren’t previously available.
“When we do get healthy, there will be a rhythm to the game and understand some of the rotations,” Mosley said. “With that being said, we’re still going to have to look at different combinations, and lineups. The message to our guys is when you step on that floor, it’s about competing [and] fighting.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.