Dwayne Bacon was the breakout star of the Orlando Magic’s first preseason game. His scoring and defense shined bright in the first outing.
A 116-112 victory over the Atlanta Hawks does not look like an impressive victory or performance. But every starter for the team shot better than 50-percent and the starting group scored 67 points.
The starting group built double-digit leads at the start of both halves. Clifford said he had concerns about the team’s rebounding and fouling in the first preseason game. But he was largely happy with how the team performed.
This was all coming within the context of injuries that hit the roster. Sixth man Terrence Ross is out with a fracture in his toe. James Ennis got kicked in the shin and missed Friday’s game — he was still not doing much of the team’s practice Saturday, but is on his way to a return.
That absence particularly was noticeable and perhaps a sign of things to come.
Dwayne Bacon, the Magic’s nondescript free-agent addition this offseason, scored 11 of his 14 points in the first quarter. He did it in a variety of ways, but they all seemed to be in the rhythm of the offense.
He darted into a few passing lanes, collecting his share of deflections as the team eased into its defense for the first preseason game. That helped him get some opportunities in transition. Dwayne Bacon ran the floor when the opportunity presented itself.
He also worked his mid-range game effectively. Getting into the paint and pulling up for jumpers that seemed very much in-rhythm and comfortable.
Bacon has had to do more work on that front than others considering the Charlotte Hornets missed the bubble and Bacon has been on the sideline since March.
In other words, it hardly looked like Bacon was the new man on the team. He fit in perfectly with what the Magic were trying to do.
"“A lot stood out just the fact that when we started that game, every guy in the starting lineup can make plays and do stuff with the ball,” Dwayne Bacon said after practice Saturday. “So it was comfortable for me the defense just has to stay true to everyone on the court. It just felt good to be out there with a bunch of guys who can do a lot of different things with the ball. They just made me feel comfortable by just letting me play my game. Everybody knew how to play with each other. I felt like I just stand back and fit right in.”"
Bacon knows he still has to work to get his playing time. So he is just “going with the flow” and focusing on his defensive effort as a way to stay on the floor. Everything else builds upon that.
This is part of why the Magic and Clifford are so comfortable with Bacon. Bacon said he knows he can defend and defend some of the best players in the league when called upon. This is how he wants to make his mark.
Clifford said he relied on Bacon as a rookie even because of his defense. When Nicolas Batum was out, Dwayne Bacon started six games playing limited minutes so Steve Clifford could keep Jeremy Lamb coming off the bench. Bacon never puts up gigantic numbers — he is not the primary option on offense — but he is solid enough to hold the job down.
"“He’s easy to play with,” Clifford said after practice Saturday. “Number one, obviously he can get in the paint. He was like that when he was young too. He can score. He has a scorer’s mentality. He makes the right play. He will pass to open teammates without hesitation. I was more happy last night with his defense. His team defense was very good. He had some individual sequences where he was very good.”"
It is still just one game though. And nobody should overreact to one preseason game.
But this is exactly what Bacon was advertised to bring. He was a solid off-the-dribble shooter and a strong defender. Bacon had that all built in from his time at Florida State.
And he introduced himself to the Magic in the best way with that strong first quarter, taking advantage of the Magic’s familiarity and pace and sliding in perfectly.
There will obviously be a long way to go. Bacon has struggled to find consistent playing time or to produce consistently. But he knows he has a chance and has an understanding of what Clifford wants him to do.
That was something he missed his last two years. It seemed like the Hornets sort of forgot him or lost faith in him in the process.
For now, it felt like Bacon fit right in. He played well in his first preseason game. That is at least something to build on.