Orlando has looked better than expected in the perseason. Maybe the expectations were so low that any positive sign that this team could win games and do more than just compete was exceeding early expectations. The preseason is hardly a gauge for what the regular season will bring.
Seven games through the eight-game preseason, Orlando will play hard and will fight. The team will play at a high tempo and get out on the break. The Magic will move the ball and work together to score.
This should be an entertaining brand of basketball. But will it win? Or at least win more than the experts project?
The Memphis Grizzlies served to remind the Magic that winning in the regular season will take a lot more than energy and spunkiness. That will help and Orlando will certainly surprise teams, but the team's shortcomings are still apparent. A 2-5 preseason record has displayed both the promise and the reality of what this team will be.
The Magic will fight, that is what we are most sure about after a 115-100 loss at FedEx Forum to the Grizzlies on Wednesday night. They will continue to come at teams. Orlando trailed by 12 points in the second quarter but continued to fight back again and again.
J.J. Redick had his shot going in scoring 23 points off the bench on 8-for-13 shooting and 4-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc -- a 76.9 percent effective field goal percentage. Redick always seemed to have a 3-pointer or a big shot to try and kickstart the Magic. so too did Hedo Turkoglu who scored 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting in what might have been his best offensive game of the preseason. Jameer Nelson was deadly too with 10 points and seven assists against one turnover.
For every Redick 3-pointer or Nelson assist, Memphis had an answer. Usually pretty immediately.
The Magic were climbing that hill all evening long until the third quarter when they tied the game. But after Redick tied the game with a 3-pointer on what the Magic thought was the final possession of the third quarter, Jerryd Bayless quickly raced down the floor and gave the Grizzlies a two-point lead.
There was not much back and forth in the fourth quarter. Eventually the Grizzlies opened up a seven-point lead and kept putting on the pressure as the Magic's hot shooting ran out.
Memphis outscored Orlando 27-14 in the fourth quarter, but Memphis did its work throughout the game on the glass to keep Orlando at arm's length. The Grizzlies had eight of their 13 offensive rebounds in the first half and shot 51.1 percent for the game. The Magic had no answer for Rudy Gay (20 points, 8 for 14) and really had no answer for Zach Randolph (18 points, 9 for 15 field goals) and Marc Gasol (18 points, 13 rebounds).
Gasol and Randolph did a lot of work on the glass and left Glen Davis shaking his head on more than one occasion with their ability to make shots. There was a lot of improvement needed against this burly frontcourt.
Orlando's defense and its transition defense still need some cleaning up before the season starts.
The offense though still seems to be working. The Magic had six players in double figures, getting a surprisingly quiet 16 points and nine rebounds from Nikola Vucevic. Arron Afflalo scored 10 points in his Magic debut, shooting four for seven from the floor in 18.5 minutes.
Orlando was shooting better than 50 percent for most of the game and ended at 48.7 percent. The Magic had 25 assists on 38 field goals. This team is showing it can pass and share the ball and convert them into points. And the Magic hit their 3-pointers with 12 makes on 21 attempts.
What Orlando still struggles with offensively is turnovers. Orlando committed eight turnovers in the first half and 17 turnovers for the game. Many of those came in that fourth quarter. That sparked Memphis' fast break and got Memphis into its offense much quicker and with some mismatches too. The Magic also tended to take quick shots on occasions and get caught up in the fast pace they wanted to play.
There are still kinks to work out. Lots of kinks to work out. It is still preseason after all. And there is still a lot of work to do.
Two Magic Players that I will definitely watching are Nicola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson. Nicholson played rather well in the preseason this far and Vucevic has shown that he is quite capable of holding his own at center especially in that game against the Grizzlies where he posted 16 points and 9 boards while shooting 7 for 10 from the field.