Pat Lovell/USA TODAY
WWE was in Miami on Sunday night for its Hell in a Cell pay-per-view before brining the road show to Orlando for a performance of Raw, its weekly wrestling revue. The Magic themselves will be preparing for a cage match of their own in the next two nights.
Indiana and Minnesota are first up on the schedule, two challenging teams with big front lines and their own unique challenges. And the Magic will have to face them without one of their key players.
Jacque Vaughn said before practice Monday that power forward Tobias Harris will not play in the team's season opener Tuesday against the Pacers. It is unclear whether Harris will go through his injury protocols, as Vaughn describes the process, before Wednesday's game against Minnesota. Harris has been held out of games and practice since turning his left ankle against the Pistons in a preseason game Oct. 20.
The other great mystery is who will start at power forward. That is a decision Vaughn said he has made, but not one he will reveal until he turns his lineup in before Tuesday's game.
The focus is solely on Indiana as the season starts with the back to back. There is no extraordinary preparation for this first game. There are no plans to change preparation for the season-opener back to back. The team will dive into the season.
"It's a great time of the year," Vaughn said. "This is what we do for a living. We get a chance to compete and play against another team. It's a great time of the year."
Vaughn said he has more of a comfort level with his players entering his second year. But not much will change from the way he approaches and calls games this year. There is still a budding anticipation for that first game. And it is an especially tough one.
It is not an easy start by any means for the Magic going up against the Pacers first and then the Timberwolves.
The Pacers are a big, aggressive team with a lot of length, Vaughn said. Their length and athleticism and physicality will be things the Magic are watching out for and preparing for in the next 24 hours before the season begins.
Indiana is a team that presents interesting matchups on both ends of the floor and for both the guards and the forwards. Paul George is a blossoming star in the league who really shined during the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana is hungry to take that next step.
"That's how this league is," Maurice Harkless said. "Every night you're going up against the best. It should be fun. [Paul George] is another guy who came into this league and he's done a great job elevating his game. He has turned into a player who can pretty much do it all. He started off as a defensive player."
"It should be fun. It's going to be a good measuring stick for us. They're a good team, a good defensive team. It's going to be a chance for us to go out there and see where we are."
Harkless will have the challenge of defending Paul George Tuesday night. The hits keep coming for him when he guards Kevin Martin (likely) on Wednesday night. Then there is the problem for the post players — Nikola Vucevic and whoever starts at power forward. Indiana features a post rotation of Roy Hibbert, David West, Ian Mahimni and Luis Scola. Minnesota features Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. These are all very traditional big men.
The Magic will have a big challenge to face right off the bat. Victor Oladipo said he is looking to take the game one play at a time and not force anything to counteract the physicality he expects in his first game.
"I think we've been doing a good job," Oladipo said. "We're going hard in practice and focusing on Indiana and our game plan and working really really hard so we can play well tomorrow."
It is still a very exciting time though. Harkless said the team is ready to get going and get the season started. Harkless said guys like Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, who sat out much of the preseason to rest, are excited to get going.
There is hunger on this roster to fight off the perceptions left over from a league-worst 20-win season last year.
"We hear it when people talk about how we're going to win 20 games again this year," Harkless said. "It's motivation. All we got to do is go out there and do things everyone says we can't."