It is the first game of the preseason, and so the 99-95 Pelicans win final score matters very little in the long scheme of things. Yes, the Magic want to win and the group Jacque Vaughn had out late closed a 13-point gap and fought with Pelicans secondary players but ultimately came up short — a controversial 3-pointer by Harris was called a 2-pointer and prevented the Magic from making it a one-point game rather than see-sawing between two and four points at the very end.
In the first preseason game, though, progress and moments are what you want to look for. Or at least, that is what you tell yourself. Veterans know how to prepare themselves and so Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson can get their work in and then rest easy. Nobody is going to worry too much about them.
So were there moments in the Magic's loss Wednesday night? A resounding yes.
Tobias Harris led a group of youngsters in the second quarter and late first quarter to close an early Pelicans lead and showed off the versatility and athleticism that had him turning heads throughout the second half of last season. He drained a couple of 3-pointers for good measure on his way to scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He was a pretty clear leader on the floor when the Magic were playing at their best — closing down double digit deficits from earlier in the game.
Victor Oladipo's stat line and the impression he made likely will steal the show for the Magic.
Oladipo made an instant impact, drawing the defenders in and leaving the ball for Andrew Nicholson on one of his first plays. It was the first of his nine assists — against one turnover! — on the game. He got into the paint and, most impressively, was active defensively. He came up with four steals and used several of them to finish fast breaks himself with thunderous jams.
Oladipo's final stat line: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals in 24 minutes.
A great start for the rookie. Obviously there is more work and more challenges ahead.
Other Magic players performed well with the ball in their hands to, doing mostly what is expected of them and some other things as well. Nikola Vucevic had a quiet 17 points, doing a lot of his work in the second half, and grabbing nine rebounds. Andrew Nicholson had 13 points, including a 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter.
Jameer Nelson scored 10 points. Arron Afflalo had four points on 2-for-9 shooting. Not a strong performance, but it is just preseason.
So here come the preseason stats: The Magic committed 17 turnovers, including four from Kyle O'Quinn. Orlando shot 38.6 percent from the floor. Maurice Harkless made only three of his nine shots. He was still aggressive and confident even with shots not falling. Again, preseason.
Finally, Orlando committed 27 fouls. Vucevic and O'Quinn especially struggled corralling Anthony Davis.
Davis was clearly the most aggressive player on the floor, scoring 29 points and getting to the line to make all 11 of his free throw attempts. Davis is going to be active around the rim. That is what he does. He grabbed four offensive rebounds and was key every time the Pelicans stretched their lead out.
Davis was the difference and so was the Pelicans' ability to get to the line.
While the Magic's players seem to take to offense naturally, the defense obviously still needs some tweaks before the regular season starts.
That is what the preseason is about. There were moments though, plenty of moments, to build off of toward the end of the month.