At long last, it is final here. Sunday will mark the beginning of the journey but the end of a long one too. Funny how that works out... every beginning comes from some other beginning's end.
The last beginning came on July 1 when the owners locked out the players and began intense and contentious negotiations. The lockout officially ended a while ago and training camps and preseason opened up. but the NBA season does not become a reality until Sunday. There will be concerns about conditioning and about the play, but even with just the abbreviated training camp and two preseason games to get ready, the players certainly are ready for things to get started for real.
"I'm in my 12th year, I'm ready play all day long," forward Quentin Richardson said. "We definitely needed a couple of preseason games. I'm sure coach and everybody would think we need more work. As a player, I definitely like regular season games and playoff games better."
Yes, everyone is happy to have NBA basketball back.
The Magic have had a tough training camp. Stan Van Gundy, knowing he has a lot of veterans on the team, is trying to whip his players into better and better shape. We have seen some fatigue work its way into the team's effort against Miami in the two preseason games. But the team woke itself up and put in the kind of effort Van Gundy was looking for. Coming off of three days of hard practice, I am sure the team is ready for the games to count for real -- the team is off Friday before practice Saturday and flying to Oklahoma City.
The Thunder are the consensus to win the Western Conference it seems and so the Magic are going to have to be ready to hit the ground running this season. There is not going to be any easy games and ready or not the regular season is here.
"You're not going to be able to ease into it," Van Gundy said. "You are just going to have to read your guys. Normally, quite honestly, we play Dwight 39-40 minutes and maybe he'll be able to do that, maybe he won't. You're going to have to read guys' minutes and play your bench more than you normally would and maybe play more people than you normally would. But I just think that's going to be a read and a feel on how your guys are going and how many minutes they can go out and play at the necessary intensity level."
Yes, this Christmas Day game against the Thunder is going to be a welcome distraction too.
Orlando is at the center of trade rumor storms. It seems everything Orlando is doing has to be viewed through the Dwight Howard prism. I doubt that changes much as the season begins. The Dwight Howard story is going to be over everything.
But games will be a welcome distraction for sure from the distractions about the Magic's future.
"I still think our situation is not going to go away," Van Gundy said. "But I think there will be a lot more focus on the games than there has been since the lockout ended. More of the focus here has been on player movement. Obviously what's happened with the Clippers and the one trade being denied and the whole thing." There have been all those stories. Certainly the games will become the No. 1 story once we start playing."
It will be nice to have real games to be the No. 1 story for the Magic. Again, the Dwight Howard story is not going to go away. Howard said that it is still tough to go out and play with the rumors swirling. But he said he is going to stay focused game-to-game and day-to-day and continue to play. Dwight Howard wants to return to "his sanctuary" on the court.
He is ready to get back to business.
"It is going to take a while because of the quick turnaround," Dwight Howard said. "But we're going to get it going and continue to go out there and continue to have fun. Hopefully the fans can stay behind me and our team throughout this short season. That's going to be key, it's going to take everybody this year because of how short the season is."
The team might take a while to get into full regular season form with just two weeks of training camp and two preseason games to prepare for the "real games." Howard said he is confident the chemistry will come together and the team will be successful -- although, as always, he was vague about his future and his still standing trade request.
Of course, we will not know just how ready the Magic might be until they hit the floor Sunday night in Oklahoma.