26 Days to Tip Off: What to look for in first preseason game

Believe it or not, we are about a month away from Opening Night. Orlando opened training camp on October 1 and open the preseason in Mexico City against New Orleans today. So how will we get ready? By counting down to the beginning of the season on November 2 against Denver. Let's continue:

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/ZimbioIt is finally here. The Magic will play their first basketball game in the post-Dwight Howard era and return to the court. Orlando has a lot of questions that will need to be answered before we finally and firmly decide where to place our realistic expectations. Those reasons for optimism when looking at the team on paper will begin to be confirmed or tempered in the next month.

The evaluation process, at least for fans, really begins Sunday as the Magic play the Hornets to tip off the preseason. This will be our first opportunity to look at the Magic and evaluate the roster.

The first preseason game is not going to be a time to make any final conclusions. It will be just a glimpse at this team as training camp is still in its early stages and this team still has a lot of growth to complete.

Again, this first preseason game may not be a whole lot to make conclusions from. After all, several rotation players — Maurice Harkless, Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington — are not expected to play. But there are a few things we should be looking for.

Jacque Vaughn's Playing Style

For the first time, we will get to see what kind of strategy Jacque Vaughn will employ on both the offensive and defensive end. He has said that he hopes to employ an up-tempo style that will emphasize getting out on the break. For a team that lacks many offensive advantages or creators, this would be a sound strategy to try and create mismatches. It also matches the players he has without a dominant center or a pace-controlling point guard.

It is a very different strategy then what Orlando has run the last five years. The Magic have not put emphasis on running the basketball and making it part of their identity since Doc Rivers was the head coach.

Creating scoring opportunities is certainly something many Magic fans are curious about. Nobody seems to be quite sure what to expect from Vaughn and the roster he has to work with. It certainly feels like it is clay in his hands waiting to be molded.

We want to see how Orlando is going to play defense this year and the overall strategy they will employ on both ends of the floor. The fundamentals of what the Magic will run this year will be on display Sunday in Mexico City.

Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic/West Orlando NewsJameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu

A lot has been made about the newcomers to this Magic roster. But there are still quite a few holdovers from last year's roster that will be taking on new roles.

Jameer Nelson is going to take a bit more control of the offense and will be expected to take on a bigger offensive role. So too will Hedo Turkoglu to some extent. These are the veteran stalwarts that have been in Orlando the longest. They are also the players that will have to make the biggest adjustment.

This is a new offense and a new team that these two players will have to adjust to. The unfortunate part is that both players appear to be on the downside of their careers. How much more adjustment these players can make will determine whether they will be able to make the next step in their careers.

That will not be easy as Dwight Howard makes things incredibly easier. But both Nelson and Turkoglu can have second acts to their careers with this new, young team. They will be asked to do things they have not been asked to do in a very long time if at all. The adjustment will likely be difficult and there will be mistakes.

Still, Nelson and Turkoglu represent the most consistent players on the Magic roster and Vaughn will rely on them heavily. How they fit into this new puzzle will begin to be revealed.

Nick Laham/Getty Images/ZimbioRookies' first taste

More than anything, what many are excited to see is the rookies get their first taste of NBA basketball. Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn each had great showings at Summer League. The question now is whether they can translate that to playing against NBA rosters in preseason. The regular season will come after.

This will be Nicholson and O'Quinn's first real taste of NBA actions. No practice jerseys or shortened games. They will get to run up and down the court in NBA uniforms and play.

Nicholson and O'Quinn will be joined by several second-year players who will be looking to make their name in the NBA. They will bring that youthful hunger for opportunity.

Gustavo Ayon and Nikola Vucevic in particular are battling for the center position and will be looking to make their marks in the NBA in their second years. Vucevic has reportedly impressed in practice and this is really his first big opportunity to play meaningful minutes in the NBA.

Orlando is ready to go and a lot of guys are probably hungry to get out there and see what they can do. Don't fret about poor defensive rotations or all the turnovers as you watch the game Sunday.  This is just step one — or two or three, I have no clue where Rob Hennigan is at in his plan — for the 2012-13 season.

We begin to see what our team looks like this afternoon.

34: Magic Complete Roster …33: Bloggers Preview Atlantic Division … 32: Media Day … 31: Who Will Start At Center? … 30: Food for thought … 29: Penny to bid for a team … 28: An Honest to Goodness Basketball Game

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily