In all likelihood, Chris Johnson and Justin Harper will not be the players controlling the Magic's fate late in a close ball game once the regular season begins. In all likelihood, E'Twaun Moore and Andrew Nicholson will be on the bench in favor of veterans like J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson or Glen Davis. In all likelihood, the outcome and what Jacque Vaughn runs will be very different the next time Orlando is faced with a close game.
For the third preseason game of the year, however, it is how the Magic got to that point that establishes who this team will become.
Vaughn has said his team will work hard and play hard through every minute of every game. That they will bring a tough-minded approach to each game.
Orlando was struggling mightily in the first half in Cincinnati against Cleveland. Fouls, turnovers, poor shooting, poor defense. The usual preseason culprits put the Magic in a 14-point hole and, in the end, led to a 114-111 overtime loss to the Cavaliers.
The Magic continued to fight and grind though. They were not going to give away any game… even a preseason game. And this is what Vaughn probably wanted to see more than anything. Orlando is not going to fold easily and will continue to fight and fight and fight.
It helped Orlando get back into the game by the middle of the fourth quarter and turned a sleepy preseason game in a non-NBA city into a hotly contested game where execution actually mattered. The Magic fed Glen Davis constantly at the end of the game, and he delivered time and time again. Davis had 27 points and eight rebounds, hitting 9 of 17 shots and 9 of 13 free throws, to lead Orlando into a wild finish.
He hit a fading away, falling-over jumper with about 30 seconds left to give Orlando a three-point lead (one given up when Andrew Nicholson bumped Jeremy Pargo for an and-one with about seven seconds to play. Davis' attempt to win the game in regulation was another 20-foot jumper and his night was then finished as Jacque Vaughn turned to his bench to close the game.
Still Davis, with all his gritty determination, leadership and fight had helped bring the Magic back give them a chance for their first preseason win.
Andrew Nicholson was along for the ride. Nicholson was both in the right place at the right time for most of the night and working hard around the basket to finish and score. In his last two games, he just has a knack for putting the ball in the hoop, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds on 6-for-12 shooting.
J.J. Redick was helping to lead the charge too. Redick was feeling it in his jumper to score 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting — and a 91.9 percent true shooting percentage since he did not go to the free throw line in this game. More than that, Redick got others involved with eight assists. Perhaps that is a new part to his game.
Others had their contributions — including Nikola Vucevic getting things going with eight of his 10 points in the first quarter and Hedo Turkoglu chipping in six assists despite a poor shooting night — as Orlando, shooting below 50 percent for much of a struggle of a first half, just found ways to stay alive and keep grinding. That will be a major characteristic of this team and an ethos that Vaughn has seemingly already instilled into his players.
Yes, there remains many problems that Orlando will have to correct sooner rather than later as the team nears the midway point of the preseason.
The Magic gave up 18 first-half points to Kyrie Irving (although he ended up with 22 for the game). Cleveland went to the line for 34 free throws and Orlando committed 29 fouls, none bigger than the one Nicholson committed late in the game. The Magic were extremely sloppy in the early going too, with eight of their 13 turnovers in the first half.
Cleveland also got free for 3-pointers, hitting 11 of 25 in the game. It proved to be something that kept the Magic at arm's length for much of the game and did them in at the end.
Those are isues Vaughn will continue to work to clean up as Orlando understands what Vaughn wants to do schematically.
What the game against the Cavaliers proved more though is that the Magic have an identity and attitude they want to establish. That appears to be sinking in.
And this attitude and ethos is one that will guarantee the Magic will fight hard and be enjoyable to watch.