Just over 100 days since they walked off the floor after falling to the Bucks in the 2020 playoffs, the Magic will be back on the court tonight.
Orlando opens the preseason against an Atlanta Hawks team that this season will be looking to jump ahead of the Magic in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Hawks made some key additions over the offseason, bringing in sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic and veterans Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo, to go along with the February trade they made with the Rockets to bring in big man Clint Capela. They will team with franchise cornerstones Trae Young and John Collins to help diversify what was a very pick-and-roll heavy offense last season. We’ll get a very early look at whether a Hawks team that went just 20-47 last season has the making of a potential playoff team.
That playoff spot, if claimed by Atlanta or one of the other Eastern teams that improved over the offseason, could come at the expense of the Magic.
Orlando returns mostly in tact with the hope being that the development of the youngest members of their core helps elevate a Magic team that finished 33-40. At the center of that is Markelle Fultz, who enters was essentially is his second year looking to take a more active role in the Magic offense. What will be fascinating to watch - as early as tonight in limited minutes, but more as the season goes on - is Fultz’s frequency and efficiency on his three-point shot. Even in a preseason opener, I’m curious to see how aggressive Fultz is in looking for his own shot.
“For his spot-up 3s, his release point is getting back to where it used to be,” Steve Clifford recently told reporters. “People forget, I think he shot 40 percent from three when he was in college at Washington, and he shot his threes the same way he shoots his twos here. And if you watch him now, he’s shooting the ball much, much better from three, and his release point is getting back to the way it used to be.”
Preseason is also going to provide Magic fans with their first look at their rookie duo of 2019 pick Chuma Okeke and 2020 pick of Cole Anthony, two players who very easily could have been lottery picks under different circumstances (injury for Okeke, supporting cast for Anthony). We’ll soon learn how well their skill sets translate to the NBA game, with hope that Okeke emerges as a 3-and-D specialist and Anthony provides instant offense off the bench.
It’s a debut that, frustratingly in today’s day and age, won’t be televised locally. To watch, the game can be purchased individually on NBA League Pass. Or you can listen to the Magic’s television announcers, David Steele and Jeff Turner, call the game on the radio at 96.7 FM.
Coming off a truncated offseason, playing time will be limited as Clifford eases the team into things. James Ennis, Terrence Ross, Mo Bamba, Al-Farouq-Aminu and, of course, Jonathan Isaac, will not be playing in the opener.
“We’re going to treat these games like practices,” Clifford explained. “I hope we win, but especially this year, I just want to get better.”
For the Hawks, Capela is questionable, Rondo is doubtful, and Kris Dunn, Tony Snell and rookie Onyeka Okongwu are out.