Opening up their eight game preseason slate, the Orlando Magic welcomed in the division rival Charlotte Hornets. After a strong first half, the Magic fell short in the second, falling to the visiting Hornets 106-100.
With injuries to three players who figure to be a key part of their rotation -- Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier -- the Magic and coach Scott Skiles had the chance to tinker with lineups and try things early on. With Vucevic out with a strained shoulder -- an injury Skiles claimed to be day-to-day during his pre-game media availability -- Skiles turned to Dewayne Dedmon to start at center for the team. Dedmon gave the starting unit a nice lift defensively early, as the team limited the Hornets to 34.8 percent shooting in the opening 12 minutes.
Offensively the Magic came out firing, pushing the pace off of strong defensive possessions, en route to a strong 50 percent opening shooting quarter. While playing with more pace helped, at times the ball stuck, with poor spacing hurting the flow of the offense, forcing someone to go one-on-one to end possessions. A balanced effort saw nine of the Magic's 10 players scorer in the opening period, led by Tobias Harris' seven.
Wrapping up the first half, the host Magic continued to show off their improved defense, swarming pick-and-rolls and trapping the Hornets every chance they got. Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton looked more comfortable guarding the opposing guards, fighting through screens with ease, and issue they had last season. Along with the continued shown improvement defensively, the Magic's offense looked more poised, getting into their sets with relative ease. Oladipo wrecked havoc on both ends, cutting to the hole for easy baskets en route to a game high 13 points at the half.
Charlotte lost swing man Michael Kidd-Gilchrist late in the second quarter after falling coming off of a screen. Kidd-Gilchrist appeared to hurt his right shoulder and was replaced by Spencer Hawes for his free throws, ending his night prematurely.New comer Nicolas Batum did the bulk of Charlotte's scoring, finishing with 11 in the opening half.
Coming out of halftime, the Magic hit a wall. The starters slowly started showing signs of weakness, leaving Hornets shooters open all of the floor, resulting in a big run from the visitors. Charlotte jumped out to as big as a 14 points lead in the quarter, shooting 11-of-16 from the field, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc.
With the starters bringing little energy, Skiles turned to the bench hoping for a spark. As the quarter crept to a close, the reserves began to find a rhythm, with Andrew Nicholson carrying much of the load offensively. The fourth year big man scored 12 points in the quarter, helping the Magic have a small glimmer of hope heading into the final 12 minutes.
After a shaky third quarter, the Magic continued to struggle to string together consistent stops, coupled with scores, in the early parts of the fourth. After an early timeout, things began to turn around as the Magic forced the Hornets into mistakes, leading to a couple of easy baskets. After cutting the lead down to five, an open three from Jeremy Lin put the Hornets out by eight. A late charge by the Magic saw the lead fall down to as few as three, before the Hornets ultimately pulled it out late.
Four Hornets finished in double figures, led by Jeremy Lin's 17. Jeremy Lamb finished with 16, with Batum adding 14. Kemba Walker rounded out the group, finishing the night with 13.
Andrew Nicholson led the way for the Magic, finishing with 23 on the night. Oladipo finished the night with 16 points with C.J. Watson rounding out the group with 10.