By John Denton
Oct. 13, 2017
ORLANDO – Everything believed this time of year in the NBA should come with the caveat of, “it’s still the preseason,’’ but nonetheless the Orlando Magic have a burgeoning sense that their chemistry, continuity and deep talent base are major advantages that should pay off for them when the regular season begins next week.
First, the Magic (3-2) must wrap up the preseason tonight against the LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers (0-4) at the Amway Center (7 p.m., Fox Sports Florida).
Regardless of how tonight’s relatively meaningless game goes, the Magic will exit the exhibition season and head to the regular season with the feeling that they have the togetherness and talent to make waves in the Eastern Conference this season. Even though the games don’t count yet, Orlando likes what it has built in the preseason and has a great feeling that things will be vastly different than the struggles of the past five seasons.
“I do believe we’re more confident than we were for a variety of reasons,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. “One, the style of play in terms of how we shifted at midseason last year and put guys at their natural positions (is a plus). Also, because we’re playing a fun style of play, running, shooting threes early if they are available and attacking before the defense is set. We have great athletes on this team and they should be exciting to watch. Another reason they are confident is they are comfortable with the system and that continuity thing is real. Hopefully, it allows us to hit the ground running.’’
The Magic have been doing plenty of running this preseason and their up-tempo style of play has helped to bring out the best in young players Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, offseason addition Jonathon Simmons and rookie Jonathan Issac. The defense has been noticeably better – especially in Tuesday’s win in San Antonio – and the Magic are sharing the ball well as they utilize their athleticism to put pressure on opposing defenses. All of those factors point to them having a growing chemistry that has promoted a belief that the team can win big this season.
“Chemistry is a weird thing – when you have it, you don’t know how you got it; and when you lose it, you don’t know how you lost it,’’ said Magic forward Evan Fournier, who is expected to return to action tonight after missing the past two preseason games with minor ankle pain. “It’s not something that you can create. It just happens, so it’s really hard to tell. … But I think we are getting better and going the right direction, but it’s obviously not enough this time of year so we have to keep working and stay at it.’’
Orlando, which will be without guard Terrence Ross (flu) tonight, opens the regular season on Wednesday. For a second year in a row the Magic will open against the rival Miami Heat at the Amway Center.
Between today and Wednesday’s opener, the Magic will have three more practices to try and better their sharpness and chemistry before the flag drops on the start of the regular season.
Chemistry is something that the Cavaliers are still looking for after a contentious offseason of upheaval and a winless preseason (thus far). James played just one preseason game because of an ankle injury, he won’t play tonight and could miss next week’s opener against Boston. The Celtics are now the home team of all-star point guard Kyrie Irving, who demanded a trade and got his wish. In addition to adding Isaiah Thomas (hip injury) and Jae Crowder, the Cavs signed aging veterans Dywane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green to fill out their roster. Their roster is still loaded with talent, giving Vogel and the Magic something to game plan for tonight in the preseason finale.
“Playing against great players and players you have to game plan against creates good situations for us to work on,’’ Vogel said. “Kevin Love playing center, there are some coverages that you have to work on to handle that. D-Wade what he can do, D-Rose what he can do, Jeff Green, JR Smith and (Kyle) Korver – they have great basketball players on their team, not to mention two guys who are out in Isaiah and LeBron. Any time you’ve got to game play for those types of guys, it’s good for your group.’’
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