Orlando Magic’s deep bench finds rhythm to close the preseason

Jett Howard and Mac McClung got their chance to shine in the Orlando Magic's preseason finale. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jett Howard and Mac McClung got their chance to shine in the Orlando Magic's preseason finale. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley promised before the game that he would use the team’s final preseason game to give players opportunities they had not yet received in the preseason. Against Brazilian side Flamengo, there was not much reason to test the starters and so every player on the Magic’s two-rotation platoon sat for the preseason finale.

Still, this was an important game to test the Magic’s young players and make sure they understood to be ready when their number was called. It was a chance to give them the confidence the team will surely need when the regular season begins.

Orlando needed to instill confidence in them in this extended look to close the preseason.

The Orlando Magic took care of business against an overmatched Flamengo squad. Their young players got some needed playing time and confidence to help build into the regular season.

This is not the night to make any judgments or conclusions on anybody. Flamengo was an overmatched opponent even against the Magic’s bench players. Still, it was always good to see those players play this way.

This was the opportunity the Magic wanted to give their young players to close the preseason.

Mission accomplished on several fronts.

"“We came out and just wanted to attack them as soon as possible,” Jett Howard said afer Friday’s game. “I feel like we held them under the first quarter amount that we wanted to. That was also a plus. We just cam eout locked in.”"

The Magic were just a better team even while sitting their top 10 players on the roster. The result was never in doubt — 109-76, if you care. This game was about seeing what these younger players could do and getting them some more time on the floor.

As always, it is good to know they can play this way — including a solid and dominant defensive effort especially on the interior — even if the opponent does not help the Magic learn too much about what everyone can do.

Immediately, the Magic were on the attack and playing with some freedom and verve, taking control of the game and never really letting go.

Caleb Houstan scored 13 of his 15 points in the first quarter, draining three of his four triples in that opening frame. Jett Howard was able to find his groove and put on a shooting display on his way to 21 points with five 3-point makes. Chuma Okeke was cutting and causing chaos, finding teammates when the defense collapsed on him.

In the second and fourth quarters, the Magic got big scoring performances from Trevelin Queen (24 points, including the highlight of the night on a dunk in the second quarter) and Mac McClung (11 points).

That helped set the tone for the team offensively and get them going. Mosley said he was very happy with the way the team approached this game, putting the pressure on early and treating the game with some seriousness early on.

That is what winning teams do in these kinds of situations.

"“It’s always easier when the ball goes in,” Houstan said. “It was great starting off hot as a team. It was a good start to the game for sure. I think we were locked in. Coach was saying this was an extension of training camp. Just because we are not playing an NBA team, these guys are still good in their league. Setting the tone early was real important for us.”"

And so everyone had a chance to play and gain some confidence heading into the season.

It is abundantly clear to see how players deep into this Magic bench can contribute when their number is eventually called this season. And especially the rookies needed this boost.

Howard, who entered the game shooting 4 for 14 from beyond the arc, caught fire to make five of his nine attempts on his way to a game-high 21 points. Shooters are going to shoot and Howard has never been shy about putting up attempts.

Like any rookie or shooter, he needed to see the ball go through the hoop a few times. That just confirmed the work he had been putting in and growing toward.

"“He put that work in,” Mosley said after Friday’s game. “The coaches have put a tremendous amount of work in with him. And I think him beabing able to watch the first couple drop, you know, he was frustrated early because he missed a layup. And then he missed another one. But the great part about him is that he’s reilsient enough to just know that he’s gonna keep finding him and his teammates were looking for him.”"

The same could be said for Anthony Black.

Black, notably struggling throughout the preseason so far, found his groove too.

Despite his meager stats in this game — five points, five rebounds, five assists — Mosley praised Black’s ability to control the pace of the game and his ability to read the game on both ends. He continued to say that his value goes beyond anything on the box score.

He continued to provide stellar defense for the team, including a pair of nice blocks one coming while he defended both players on a 2-on-1 fast break.

"“I really think AB is special defensively,” Mosley said after Friday’s game. “He just has a tenacity about him to go after the ball. What people don’t recognize is the things he is really doing offensivley as well. He larens and figures out where to space the floor. He is trying to make the right pass at all times. He has great court vision and great awareness. He impacts teh game defensively but offensively because he wants to make the easy play.”"

It certainly says something that both Howard and Black led the team with a +23 plus/minus, for whatever value that stat has in a game like this. Both Black and Howard seemed to grow in confidence and comfort as the game went on. That is something both have struggled with at times throughout the preseason.

An expected problem to have.

But now they have seen what they can do when some of those guardrails are off. They know what they are capable of in these big moments. That is something they can lean on as the season begins.

"“They understand and they’re award that they’re capable,” Mosley said after Friday’s game. “I think a lot of times when you walk in your rookie season, you look at the games and how they’re being played. And then you sit tot ry to figure out how you can maek an impact. And I think those extended minutes, hey can see how they can make an impact on the game, whether that be just making a shot, setting ag reat screen, cutting a ther ight time. Little ways to impact the game, no matter when your number is called.”"

At some point this season, the Magic will likely call on these players for key minutes. No team gets through a full 82-game season fully healthy. No matter what rotation the Magic ultimately settle on, there will be shifts and changes throughout the year.

Everyone will have to be ready to contribute at some point.

Next. Orlando Magic see depth as a strength. dark

Friday’s preseason finale proved everyone is capable of contributing when their number is called. They have some skills that just needed a boost to close their preseason to prepare for the year ahead.