ORLANDO – The stage is set, the combatants are ready, and as legendary boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer would say, “let’s get ready to rumble.”
The top NBA 2K League 3v3 teams this season have made their way to Indianapolis, where they will give it their all on the blacktop for a chance to be crowned the first ever 3v3 champions.
For Magic Gaming, the journey to get to this point has been nothing short of extraordinary. They were down at the bottom of the pile over the first couple months of the season, struggling to find their footing.
But everything changed on June 22, when they acquired Joshua “unguardable” Hunter from Blazer5 Gaming as part of a four-team blockbuster trade. While nobody is surprised by his stellar play, what has caused a buzz is how he has completely redirected the trajectory of the Magic Gaming franchise.
Ask around the 2K community who they think the best 3v3 player in the world is and unguardable will undoubtedly hear his name quite a bit in that discussion. That’s how special of a talent he is, and it’s one of several reasons why Magic Gaming is in the position they are.
After rolling through the STEAL OPEN, with wins over Hornets Venom GT, Gen.G, Heat Check Gaming and Jazz Gaming, Orlando is now hoping to keep that momentum going in the 3v3 Championships.
Their first-round opponent, Handlez, is one they are quite familiar with having played them earlier in the season. The amateur team has proven all year they can hang with the pros, advancing to bracket play in both the SLAM OPEN and SWITCH OPEN.
Knocking them off will be no easy task, but it’s a challenge Magic Gaming is up for and one they continue to prepare for.
“The first thing about Handlez that you look at is they are really efficient on both ends,” Magic Gaming General Manager and Head Coach Jonah Edwards said of this matchup, scheduled for Thursday at 10 p.m. “They play pretty solid defense. They are very strategic. They understand the game at such a high level from their years of playing together. They know exactly what situations they should be giving up a two, trying to force a three, things like that. They do that really well, better than most 2K League teams ironically enough.”
One of their weapons is xmiami2k, arguably the best stretch big in 3v3. He’s joined by NOTELITESHOOTER, a funny gamer tag considering he is a pretty good shooter, and KazeTheLock, an excellent on-ball defender as his gamer tag denotes.
Magic Gaming and Handlez squared off twice in group play of the SLAM OPEN. Handlez won both series, the first one in a sweep and the second one in five. Unguardable, in Portland then, was not part of either series, although he did play against Handlez in the SWITCH OPEN while with the Blazers. That matchup – won by Handlez in a sweep – came just eight days before the electrifying rookie was dealt to Orlando.
While it’s obviously a big factor, unguardable’s sensational play isn’t the only reason why Magic Gaming has reached new heights. Their confidence and swag are at an all-time high. Also, both Robert “May” May and Matthew “Matty” Grant, two seasoned veterans, have meshed extremely well with unguardable in 3v3, and then also with Wesley “Gen” McNair and Justin “Snubby” Stemerman on the 5v5 side.
“I don’t want to say (we) got lucky, but I, for example, had never spoken a word to Josh or Gen and now a month or two later since the trade, I feel like we all really like each other,” May said. “I think what’s important, too, is we all respect each other on the game. So, for example, if Snubby sees something, calls something, Josh will then call it like a second later, and I think that’s really important – just the pure respect from all of us as teammates.”
The other qualified teams in the East in the 3v3 Championships include Wizards District Gaming, 76ers GC, Celtics Crossover Gaming, Hawks Talon GC, and Knicks Gaming. Out West, it’s a battle between Pacers Gaming, Bucks Gaming, Pistons GT, Lakers Gaming, DUX Infinitos, Jazz Gaming, and amateur team Rim Runners.
Having also earned a spot in the 5v5 Championships through THE TICKET, Magic Gaming is one of only seven teams competing in both the 3v3 and 5v5 playoffs.
Learned through the first four 2KL seasons, teams that get hot late tend to stay hot in the postseason. In Year One, Knicks Gaming snuck into the playoffs by winning THE TICKET, and then charged through the competition in the postseason to capture the league’s first title. Nobody was playing better than Wizards District Gaming towards the end of the regular season in Year Three, and they never cooled off, winning the championship that season and the next one.
Magic Gaming is aware of this.
“Throughout the history of the league, the team at the end really got going, and that happens in (non-virtual) sports too of course,” May said. “But for us, I think what’s most important is continuing to work hard every day. We still haven’t accomplished our ultimate goal of trying to win both playoffs, and I do think we can get it done. I actually really do…I think we have a really good shot at it.”