Less than eight hours before Saturday’s matchup between the Magic and the Bulls at Kia Center, reserve big man Goga Bitadze wrapped up Orlando‘s shootaround session with a full-court 3-on-3 scrimmage.
It’s part of the routine for members of the Magic’s third unit that includes Bitadze, Chuma Okeke, Caleb Houstan and rookie Anthony Black so that the group of players stays ready when they’re not playing on a game-by-game basis for the team.
The extra work paid off for Bitadze as the Orlando center not only saw significant minutes on the court down the stretch but was key to the Magic’s overtime win against Chicago.
“He worked out and played [Saturday] morning, got himself ready to go,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said after Orlando clinched the season series over Chicago. “The coaches had him ready to go with the game plan. He just did great things out there.”
Bitadze entered the game at the 9:19 mark of the fourth quarter and played the rest of the frame along with the entire overtime period. In 14 total minutes, he scored 5 points, grabbed 2 rebounds and recorded a block.
It had been three weeks since Bitadze played at least 15 minutes. The majority of his recent appearances on the court were made when the final result was already determined and included just a handful of minutes.
The third unit was where Bitadze started the year until the sixth game of the season when he replaced Wendell Carter Jr., who fractured his left hand at Utah on Nov. 2, in Orlando’s starting lineup.
Bitadze made 20 starts in a row before Carter returned Dec. 20 against the Heat. It wasn’t until the end of January when Bitadze returned to where he started the season and out of the Magic’s rotation.
But the hard work continued on the practice court for the Orlando center, who began his career with the Pacers.
“I’m so proud of him and of our coaches for always staying the course,” Mosley said, “and being an unbelievable teammate no matter what’s going on. Changing the game up [Saturday night] was something that we needed to do and he came up big for us.”
Bitadze has served as reliable piece off the Magic’s bench. He, Carter and Moe Wagner make up a center position for Orlando that’s versatile among Bitadze’s defense, Carter’s ability to spread the floor and Wagner’s craftiness.
The Magic are aware it’s not common for an NBA team to have three centers who all could play quality minutes on a regular basis.
“We really are the luckiest team when it comes to having three extremely capable bigs,” Magic forward Jonathan Isaac said. “To have what people call a ‘third-string’ big that can close out games and go on the run that Goga had earlier in the season that helped us continue to win games, it was crazy.
“I told him he made himself some money early on in the season and he continues to show it with his ability to come in dry and help the team win a game.”
The Magic remain at Kia Center when they host the Thunder on Tuesday during Orlando’s lone national TV appearance of the regular season (TNT, 7:30).