The first quarter and a half of the Orlando Magic’s preseason opener did not feel like anything anyone expected of this team. Especially with how the group talked about its approach and its desire to defend at a high level.
The Magic had three team fouls within the first 1:15 of the game (perhaps expected in the first preseason game, but still a bit rough). The New Orleans Pelicans scored 38 points and shot 58.8 percent in the first quarter. The Magic had five turnovers and gave up nine free throw attempts in the opening frame.
That is not what anyone talked about from training camp. This was not a team that was going to be tough to beat and would not beat themselves. This was not a team with ambitions to be in the top 10 defensively.
This was a team caught on its back foot with a New Orleans team that is looking to push the pace at every opportunity. The Magic could not seem to get themselves organized as the Pelicans took as much as a 16-point lead.
Breathe. Just breathe.
The name of the game for the Magic is improvement. They say before every practice that the goal is to get better that day. That is what the preseason is for, it is for improvement. It is for testing out lineups, finding trouble spots and fine-tuning things.
The Orlando Magic looked a bit sloppy as they adjusted to their first preseason game. But the name of the game is improvement and slowly the Magic adjusted and took control to start their preseason journey.
There is no rush to judgment after the first preseason game especially. There is still a lot of work to do and a long way to go.
But if coach Jamahl Mosley can be satisfied with one thing from this 122-105 preseason-opening win, it is that the team got better. They did not wilt or back down after falling down in the second quarter. They did not let go of the rope. They centered themselves, they got to work and they locked in to play their game.
The contours of what that game looks like are the parts fans are looking to learn. This is still what the Magic are trying to develop.
Orlando said throughout training camp that the team would hang its hat on defense. It certainly took a little bit to bring that intensity.
The Pelicans scored 38 points in the first quarter — and another 30 in the second quarter — shooting 56.5 percent from the floor in the first quarter and 48.0 percent overall in the first half. Orlando gave up nine free throws and four offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone and 16 free throws and nine offensive rebounds in the first half in total.
The Magic also aimed to reduce turnovers. But they had five in the first quarter alone as they struggled to keep up with the Pelicans early in the game.
Some of that sloppiness and some of the poor timing are expected for the first preseason game. Everyone is still getting on the same page and getting their legs back under them at game speed. The fact the Pelicans were playing at a breakneck pace seemed to unsettle the team a bit. It did not give them a chance to take a breath and get themselves right.
The Magic used line changes to get everyone their minutes while the Pelicans kept some starters sprinkled in their lineups throughout. That enabled the Pelicans to expand their lead when the bench groups were in early in the second quarter.
But the message of the day was to relax and keep working. If there is a lesson from this first preseason game, it should be that. The work will create the results.
Mosley has repeated to his team that they will face adversity and they will have to adjust to it throughout the season. That is the case always. And every team is going to have to find a response when they reach the downs in a season.
To see Orlando gather themselves in the middle of the game, even before halftime, adjust and make a stand was fairly impressive.
It, of course, started on defense. Orlando started to force turnovers and get sharper with their rotations. Those details started to fill in.
That fed a fast break that ran straight at the Pelicans and used its size to get to the basket. That fed a team that was more than willing to pass the ball — 29 assists on 44 field goal makes — and worked hard to get paint touches to set up the rest of their offense.
Orlando scored 41 points in the second quarter to climb back into the game. Then the starting group took care of business with New Orleans sitting its starters for the second half, especially on defense when both teams suddenly went cold and combined to shoot 14 for 44.
The Magic ultimately used their depth to pull away, putting the game firmly out of reach with the team’s deep bench players in for the fourth quarter.
This is the preseason. And neither team looked ready to go for a regular season game. They will both have plenty to work on.
But that is the point, isn’t it? The point is for the team to get better.
The Magic will have to take care of the ball better, rebound better and fine-tune their defense. All of those key parts of the team’s identity are still not hardened even if the Magic did well to lean back on them and stick with them when they faced a deficit. There are still details to fill in.
Orlando certainly can still get more consistent offensively too. The team had an emphasis of attacking the basket and making interior passes. The team also shot 45 3-pointers, but heavy 3-point shooting is a norm in the preseason when teams can settle for shots.
The point is that everything can get better. The Magic will get better as their preseason continues.
That seems like a certainty because even within this game, the Magic got better. And that is the goal. For this game, seeing that progress was important. Now the team has to keep building as the preseason continues.