Orlando Magic get reminder of how far they still have to go

Cole Anthony looked confident as one of the few bright spots in a difficult preseason debut for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony looked confident as one of the few bright spots in a difficult preseason debut for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

38. 109. 211. Final. 97

The Orlando Magic can talk the talk all they want.

They can say they understand they need to play with more maturity, to move the ball with pace and decisiveness and to limit their own mistakes. All the things everyone says in camp. It is easy to see and correct mistakes in the confines of practice.

Doing it in a game when there is no stopping, when the team has to figure things out on its own, and when the clock is ticking and you have to figure out how to get out of a slump or else fall behind? Through all that grind and doing it against one of the best young teams in the league?

Talk is talk. The walk is the walk.

And for this young Magic game, there has been a lot of talking and conceptual understanding. The vibes and camaraderie within the group are good throughout the always positive atmosphere in training camp. But actually putting all that into action is going to prove to be much more difficult for this young roster.

The Orlando Magic got a bit of a reality check as the Memphis Grizzlies looked the more seasoned and ready team in sending the Orlando Magic to a preseason loss.

It is the first preseason game and everything should be taken with several grains of salt as the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Orlando Magic 109-97 at FedExForum in Memphis on Monday. The Magic have gone through some grueling days of training camp, losing two days for Hurricane Ian and having to cram as much as they can into their limited time.

That fatigue perhaps showed with the clanking of shots that one would expect in the preseason or even the turnovers that are the signs of a team still getting on the same page.

The Grizzlies gave the Magic some flashbacks to their two blowout wins last year when they would just punish the Magic in transition with turnovers and fast-break dunks. Ja Morant provided the highlight of the night, stealing a lazy pass from Jalen Suggs along the perimeter and taking it in for a 360 dunk.

Morant was the superstar everyone expects him to be this year, able to attack the Magic’s switching and weave his way through the lane.

The Grizzlies just looked a bit ahead of the Magic, able to move the ball more effectively and break the team’s defense down. Memphis has played one preseason game before.

"“A lot of us got to get used to playing with each other,” Paolo Banchero said after Monday’s game. “I feel like our process was a little different than most teams with the way we had to deal with training camp and the cancellations. Coach told us before the game to treat preseason as extended training camp. Just getting right, getting used to the game and each other.”"

That is all fine. This game is not about the opponent and more about the Magic.

In that respect, the Magic did plenty of things to be encouraged with — some more purposeful and quick passing and movements if not all on a line; more purposeful switching and paint defense even if that left the 3-point line open; and as advertised a willingness to shoot, even if those shots came a bit quick.

After a rough Summer League, R.J. Hampton looked poised and confident with his decision-making. He scored 14 points and added seven assists with just one turnover. He drove confidently into the lane and finished with poise and comfort.

Cole Anthony too looked a lot more confident with his shooting and his decision-making. He did a great job keeping the ball moving quickly on his way to 17 points on 4-for-8 shooting from deep. Anthony may have settled for his jumper, but he looked like he had that bounce he had early last season.

But there was also plenty to be concerned with.

Related Story. Magic work on decision-making to improve offense. light

The Magic struggled to make those shots. They seemed to get discouraged and lose focus as they struggled offensively. Memphis’ transition play was a direct result of repeated mistakes and a lack of focus, a major point of emphasis throughout camp so far.

"“I thought it was a great challenge for our guys,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Monday’s game. “I think it was an opportunity for them to understand the level of growth and the things we are going to have to continue to do to get where we are trying to go. Us having 25 turnovers for 33 points and us fouling them and putting them on the line 34 times, I think those are areas we are going to have to continue to grow and get better at.”"

The Grizzlies indeed turned 25 turnovers into 33 points and had 30 fast-break points. This is at the heart of how the Magic let a close game turn into a runaway that was never competitive in the second half.

Paolo Banchero was plenty aggressive in his first outing with the Magic but definitely looked completely sped up and very much like a rookie at times. He had a nice steal and lay-in on the first possession of the game, but finished with just eight points on 2-for-9 shooting.

Wendell Carter was essentially uninvolved with just 1-for-6 shooting, perhaps a sign the game’s offensive strategy should not be taken as gospel, and Jalen Suggs finished with four points and five turnovers. Orlando only had 13 free throw attempts and 22 points in the paint (on 24 attempts in the paint).

This is a young team and that youth is on full display with those mistakes. They are still learning how to put all their goals and all their focuses from camp into action.

The pieces of the puzzle are still coming together. And that is as big a lesson from this first game as anything else.

To be sure, the Magic will get better as camp goes on. The team may have been focused on pieces of their offense and not the whole thing. Nobody can ever take a preseason game as complete gospel. The Magic just have to have themselves ready by Oct. 19 against the Detroit Pistons.

"“These are great learning opportunities for each one of these young men and our staff to be able to teach the things that we’ll need to continue to do to continue to grow and get better,” Mosley said after Monday’s game. “When and where we’re making passes, transition defense, understanding the details of it. I think this is going to be a great teaching tape for us.”"

Still, the foundations the Magic are trying to build are easy to say and verbalize. The buzzwords and the coach-isms that dominated camp need to be put into practice. And that is the most difficult thing to teach and ultimately execute.

Next. Orlando Magic aren't afraid to play their bigs together. dark

Orlando got a bit of a wake-up call then in their first preseason game. The team got its chance to see where it stands and how much work it has left to do.