The Orlando Magic finished their preseason Friday night with a 101-82 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn limited his starters to 18 minutes, all in the first half, allowing the players further down on his depth chart to get extended minutes after intermission. As a result, New Orleans ran away with the game despite the fact that the score was tied, 45-all, at half.
Making another start at point guard, Victor Oladipo finished with 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting to go with two assists and two turnovers. Nikola Vučević shot 5-of-7 for 10 points and seven rebounds. The seven-foot center drained a pair of long two-point jumpers, making a case for himself as a viable pick-and-pop option. He was less impressive with his back to the basket, committing two travelling violations while trying to back down in the post.
The Magic got a team-high 12 points from camp invitee Manny Harris, likely making his last appearance in pinstripes. Kris Joseph had six points, three boards, and four fouls, while Solomon Jones shot just 2-of-7 but did manage seven rebounds in 18 minutes.
Orlando built a quick lead, 10-7, with good ball movement and aggressive drives to the rim by Oladipo. The Pelicans countered with outside shooting and foul-drawing--two of the most efficient ways to score--and in short order New Orleans had built a 24-12 lead. Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday applied greater ball pressure to Oladipo as he orchestrated Orlando's offense, taking him out of his rhythm and leading to some ugly sets.
Oladipo knows how to give pressure, and he forced Holiday to commit three turnovers of his own in the opening period. A key distinction was that New Orleans' offense could handle the occasional disruption, as it shot 62.5 percent from the floor, and 60 percent on three-pointers, in the opening period. Orlando's offense was less successful, with Oladipo going 1-of-7 overall and 0-of-4 from deep.
One problem with Orlando's offense is a lack of space, even with Andrew Nicholson occasionally extending his range to the three-point arc. For example, consider the first-quarter possession in which Arron Afflalo worked to establish position on the right block against Holiday while Vučević made the entry pass... from the right elbow, maybe five feet away. A shrunken floor makes life easier for a defense.
Vaughn used two discrete five-man units in the first half. The starting group worked much more effectively at both ends of the floor, particularly in the closing six minutes of the second quarter. A driving layup by Oladipo--one of his two baskets on the night--with 1.5 seconds left in the half evened the score at 45.
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The Pelicans reasserted themselves in the second half, with Vaughn electing to use his second unit.Less than five minutes into the period, Pelicans super-sub Tyreke Evans put New Orleans back up by 10 points using an effortless Eurostep to set up a swooping layup for himself. A pair of free throws by Al-Farouq Aminu two minutes later gave the visitors a commanding 18-point edge as the Magic tried, with little success, to make viable an offense featuring the camp invitees Harris, Joseph, and Mickell Gladness.
Orlando made some crowd-pleasing plays in the fourth quarter, including an unexpectedly emphatic two-handed dunk by backup point guard Ronnie Price and a one-handed rejection by Solomon Jones, and generally looked more organized than it did in its 13-point third. But the Pelicans continued to maintain a double-digit lead due largely to the steadiness of Brian Roberts, the second-year reserve point guard. Roberts scored 21 points on the night to lead the visitors, using his deceptive footspeed to get into the paint for soft floaters.
It's instructive to note that, once again, Orlando played without Jameer Nelson and Tobias Harris, two of its best offensive players. And Friday's game was its last look at its camp invitees, so it behooved the Magic to play them extended minutes. The Pelicans, in contrast, played guys who will be on their roster, if not necessarily in coach Monty Williams' regular rotation, once the season comes. There's only so much a fan can take away from a preseason game with this sort of disparity in personnel. The Magic team that opens the season in Indianapolis on Tuesday will most assuredly play sharper at both ends of the floor.