ORLANDO, Fla. — Halfway through their preseason, the good has by far outweighed the bad for the Orlando Magic.
Even with injuries to Channing Frye and Victor Oladipo during training camp causing a shake-up in lineups, player rotations and minutes, the Magic continue to show progress. The latest example came Wednesday night in their 106-88 victory over Flamengo, a team from Brazil playing its second game of a three-game NBA preseason tour.
The noise level at the Amway Center was louder than usual because of the cheering and chanting group of supporters rooting on Flamengo. But the Magic gave their fans plenty to shout about as well.
"Is this the plan I had at the beginning of the year when I had all that time to figure everything out, jot it all down and make it look pretty? No, because I didn’t plan on Channing and Victor being hurt," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "But we still have some answers to figure out. The good thing is we have some games to do so."
Center Nikola Vucevic scored 13 points in the first half, when the Magic held a 32-16 advantage in points in the paint. He finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in less than three quarters.
The Magic improved their record to 3-1 going into Friday night’s game against the visiting Detroit Pistons, now coached by Stan Van Gundy. For what it’s worth, Orlando went 2-6 the previous two preseasons.
Here are five takeaways and observations:
1. This is a starting combination you’re unlikely to soon see again.
Vucevic, Tobias Harris and rookie Elfrid Payton are going to be counted on heavily this season. But to see Willie Green and Andrew Nicholson on the floor with them at the opening tip was a bit of a surprise.
Green, an 11-year veteran who spent last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, had missed the first three games because of a hyperextended left knee. Nicholson started in only five games last season after making 28 starts as a rookie. He did not play at all Monday night in the Magic’s loss at Charlotte.
While Nicholson scored on a tip-in and a jump hook in the opening minutes, he was late in closing out on a 3-point shooter and later committed a foul trying to stop a fast break. He also turned the ball over in the third quarter after being doubled in the low post.All 11 guys used by Vaughn played at least 15 minutes, with Payton being the only one with more than 30.
"We’re going to use everybody," Vaughn said. "We need everyone for us to have a chance. And we’ll continue to stress pushing the pace."
2. Payton is truly a pass-first point guard.
In the first half, Payton and backup Luke Ridnour had twice as many assists (6) as they did field-goal attempts (3). While the party line has been there’s little to no difference between point and shooting guards, that may no longer be the case. Payton’s only basket — until the game’s final minute — came on a breakaway dunk.
His home debut was not without its rough patches. Of the Magic’s 16 turnovers, Payton was guilty of six, including one where he led fellow rookie Aaron Gordon too far on an outlet pass.
"It’s just all about getting a feel for everybody and trying to figure out where everybody wants the ball," said Payton, who has played more than 30 minutes in three of four games.
In the third quarter, Ridnour threw the ball high off the glass in the hopes Gordon would slam it home. The execution didn’t come off as anticipated, but no harm came from it.
3. Defending the 3-point shot can still be a sore spot.
The Magic led only 55-49 at halftime because Flamengo went 7 for 18 from long range. They tightened things up over the last two quarters, allowing only two 3-pointers 13 attempts.
"We gave up a few too many transition 3s," Vaughn said. "But these are areas we can clean up. The overall foundation of what we are right now (is) not bad."
In all three victories, the Magic have held their opponents to 40 percent shooting or less.
4. So much for getting to see Evan Fournier for the first time.
Fournier was given the night off, perhaps so Vaughn could get more of a look at Green. The 6-foot-7 native of France was not injured, and with the Magic beginning a stretch of three games in four nights, it made sense to rest the player acquired in the trade that sent Arron Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets.
Maurice Harkless was also not needed. Harkless, who has been used mainly at small forward in his two years with the Magic, opened at a guard spot Monday night.
5. Kyle O’Quinn, 3-point threat?
O’Quinn had gone 0 for 4 in his first two seasons from beyond the arc. But when he was left unguarded early in the second quarter, he hit nothing but net.
Orlando finished 6-of-11 from 3-point range.
"If you guys don’t jinx it, you might see him shoot a few more," Vaughn said.