The Orlando Magic open their 2023-24 season as they play the Houston Rockets in a battle of two teams eager to show growth this season.
Orlando Magic (0-0) vs. Houston Rockets (0-0)
Time/TV: 7 p.m./Bally Sports Florida
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Line: Magic by 4/Magic Money Line: -172/Over-Under: 221 on FanDuel
Tickets: $30-$480 on StubHub
Season Series: Tonight in Orlando; April 9 in Houston
There is always excitement for the first game of the NBA season. The new beginning is always fun. That is for everyone. Every team right now feels good. That is the power of 0-0. And one game should not derail that too much.
But that is what makes this game so much fun. The first game is thrilling because anything can happen. The 2013 Orlando Magic went 2-0 to start their season! They would win only 18 more games the rest of the season. So take everything with a grain of salt still. Patterns have not yet been established.
Still, this Magic team is confident. They are comfortable with each other and they are determined to make something out of this season. They want to get off to a good start too. The only thing that might be missing from this team is the experience to deal with all these emotions and the expectations they have put on themselves.
That hope cuts both ways though. The Houston Rockets did not have a good season last year. But they entered this season with a new coach in Ime Udoka and veteran free agent signings in Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks. The Rockets will be a dangerous and intriguing challenge for the Magic to face.
3 Keys To Watch
The Orlando Magic’s biggest focus this offseason and into the preseason was turnovers. That is at the heart of playing “better basketball,” the team’s rallying cry all season. Orlando has to protect the ball and value possessions. It is an easy way to improve the team’s offense — think of all the shots the team gave up from turnovers — and an easy way to keep up the team’s defense — a set defense is better than one in transition.
Last year, Orlando was 27th in the league with a 15.1 percent turnover rate. That was a huge weakness for the Magic. It was also a big one for the Houston Rockets. They were last in the league with a 16.2 percent turnover rate. They added a veteran point guard in Fred VanVleet to help resolve that.
High turnovers are a vice of young teams (for the most part). If either of these teams wants to start maturing, it is going to start with reducing turnovers.
Paolo Banchero won Rookie of the Year. He made the debate the Orlando Magic had before the draft look really silly. It was a historic season for Banchero where he averaged 20.0 point sper game and 6.9 rebounds per game. His free throws and ability to get to the line put him in the company of some truly elite players.
Jabari Smith Jr., the consensus top pick before the Magic seemed to throw a curve ball on draft night, had a difficult rookie season. Some of it was certainly the Houston Rockets’ disorganization. He averaged 12.8 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 30.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Smith found his way later in the season. And then he really found himself in Summer League where he looked like a different player — and the kind of attacker and scorer that made everyone believe he could be the top pick.
Banchero and Smith are likely to go head-to-head this game. And we will get to see these two top picks from the 2022 Draft face off.
Where do the rookies fit?
The Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets are both young teams and would seem eager to play their young players to help the team. The Magic and Rockets seemed to go in the opposite direction though. They seemed to load their roster with more veteran players and push their rookies down the depth chart.
Anthony Black and Jett Howard were largely outside the rotation during the preseason. There is an opening for them to get on the court with Gary Harris QUESTIONABLE with a left adductor strain. But both Black and Howard will have to fight for their time on the court.
Amen Thompson, the fourth overall pick from the 2023 Draft, is not fighting for his playing time. But he is likely coming off the bench. Thompson has turned some heads with his athleticism as expected. But nobody really know what to expect from him or how he fits in with this Rockets team.
That is the fun though. The rookies will discover their place soon enough.
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.