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Magic 116, Hawks 112: Notes from Orlando’s preseason opener

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Basketball is back!

Orlando Magic v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Magic basketball is officially (kind of) back! Orlando kicked off their truncated preseason campaign with a tilt against the Hawks in Atlanta, ultimately securing an opening win by a margin of 116-112. The final result and general game flow really doesn’t matter all that much because, well, it’s the preseason, but there are still a bevy of interesting observations worth noting. Let’s dive into the discussion.

  • The first surprise of the game came with the starters that took the floor. No Isaac, Aminu, Ross or Ennis meant that the Magic turned to a new face, with Dwayne Bacon sliding in at the three and rounding out the first five. He was energetic across the game’s opening seven minutes, scoring six points, turning deflections into turnovers, and getting out in transition whenever the opportunity presented itself. His offensive mindset continued when he checked back in a few minutes later, ultimately closing the period as Orlando’s leading scorer with 11 points on a perfect 5-5 from the field. It was a strong showing for one of the new roster recruits.
  • When the game was at its most competitive early, the Magic were generally excellent defensively. They started a little contact-shy in the lane in the opening minutes, but the team soon found a rhythm that stymied the Hawks and allowed Orlando to jump out to a double digit lead. Active hands resulted in both deflections and steals, and the guards generally did a solid job of staying in front of their immediate assignment and challenging long-range jumpers. When the intensity inevitably dipped back into expected preseason territory so too did the defense wane, but that it looked good early was a nice observation to be able to make.
  • Magic fans are going to be most interested in the performance of the team’s two rookies, and on that front there’s not a huge amount to report just yet. Cole Anthony checked in early and ultimately played 20 minutes, but absolutely looked the part of a rookie in his time on the floor. He lacked a little for both patience and touch on offense, struggled to make an impact when playing off the ball, and was a step slow on defense for much of the night. He finished with just 7 points and 3 assists, on an icy 3-10 from the floor. He’ll be better for the experience, but there is still obviously a long way to go for the young guard.
  • As for Chuma Okeke, Orlando’s other first-year player, there’s even less to say as he didn’t see the floor until late in the second half. He didn’t do a huge amount in the court time he did see, demonstrating obvious nerves on offense and struggling with the tough task of matching up against Danilo Gallinari at the other end. That he was able to eventually settle into the contest speaks to his polished basketball temperament, with some solid plays down the stretch. Still, like Anthony, the hope will be that he looks much better in outing number two.
  • The Magic’s veteran core of Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier looked largely as expected: solid. There was some mild concern when Fournier decided to open proceedings with a triple (good) from the corner (very good) despite being off balance (bad) and fading away (very bad), but he and the others ultimately settled down and got good shots in the flow of the offense. Fournier finished with an efficient 13 points and Vooch had a double-double, while AG was the team’s most effective playmaker with 12 points and 6 assists — as well as a pair of monster dunks — in just 16 minutes of court time.
  • A common feature of offensive possessions in this contest was the 1-5 pick and roll with Vooch and Markelle Fultz. With DJ Augustin now plying his trade in Wisconsin there were more opportunities for the Magic’s young point guard to play quarterback, and he did so to very good effect when working the two-man game with his former All-Star teammate. Of particular note was a third quarter sequence that featured Fultz using a slippery dribble to navigate the screen before finding the rolling Vucevic with a pass through tight space. Vooch gathered, muscled into position, and dropped in an easy bucket at the hoop. Talented basketballers making good plays generated by simple principles.
  • Speaking of Fultz, all Floridian eyes were intent on spotting evidence of his apparently improved shooting stroke. While it’s true that it’s looking a little cleaner — with a slightly higher release and smoothness of motion — he’s still a long ways from being mistaken for Ray Allen. That being said, he drilled his first long range attempt and was decisive in firing away on other jump shooting opportunities. At this stage even incremental improvements are a welcome sight.
  • Orlando used a free-throw line stack to initiate the offense on a handful of possessions in the second half, generating some nice looks for weakside cutters after the initial action. There’s maybe not a heap to say about this except that it was interesting, particularly with some players calling teammates into position for the sequence. Might be a sneak peek of a new look to come.
  • This contest was ultimately a tale of two sides for the Magic, with the starters scorching their direct opponents and finishing with a combined plus/minus of positive one million (approximately), while the reserves were just about as bad in the other direction. Ultimately it’s to be expected in games like this one, particularly once one factors in the absence of rotation regulars and the deep bench players thrown into the mix. Still, the manner in which the offense became a painful grind once the starters sat should be of mild concern for fans of the Magic.

And with that we’re done! On the first night of Magic basketball for the 2020/21 season, at least, the good guys ended up on the right side of the ledger. Be sure to jump into the comments section below and fire away with your 48 minute hot takes and overreactions. It’s good to be back!