By Josh Cohen
October 7, 2012

In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.

No, there is no Dwight Howard or some replica of him hovering over the Orlando Magic.

No, there is no sense of urgency to win big now and reach mass expectations.

No, there is no major spotlight perched over the team and no longer is there an assiduous commotion stirring any sort of drama or distraction.

One, as a result, would immediately insinuate that “everything” is different with the Magic.

I suggest otherwise.

While the roster is fresh and diverse and in spite of expectations being inevitably reduced, the vista of the team is parallel to that of the last few seasons.

Last year when there were all kinds of ambiguity and obscurity regarding the future of Howard, it felt like it was imperative to win every game possible.

After victories, on one hand, we could visualize Dwight staying. A successful night resulted in an optimistic outlook for Howard to consider. After defeats, on the other hand, we saw the writing on the wall and Howard’s exit predestined.

Now – despite Howard gone and the Magic at the commencement of a long-term renovation – the fulfillment of winning and the hindrance of losing remains the same.

Though it was just an exhibition on Sunday in Mexico City and while the journey is enduring and exhausting, you couldn’t help but want Orlando to make an immediate statement.

When the hometown hero Gustavo Ayon scraped, clawed and blistered his way to early baskets on Sunday against his former team, when youngsters like DeQuan Jones and E’Twuan Moore buried fadeaways and pull-ups, when the veterans like J.J. Redick and Glen Davis reminded us why we adore their uninterrupted improvement, you couldn’t help but shout out, “take that all you detractors and disparagers” or in jest “Dwight Who?”

As an undeniable underdog this entire year, there’s an inescapable craving to silence the critics and prove the naysayers wrong. There is a desire to feel that we don’t need Howard to enjoy a fun, exciting and successful season.

After wins, there will be a great sense of progress and entitlement. After losses, however, there will be manifest setback – not in terms of the long-term goals but rather from the disapproving view from the critics.

Again, it was just one game – a preseason contest at that – but every time the Magic did something constructive on Sunday, which was fairly often prior to New Orleans' furious fourth-quarter rally, our heart became stuffed with optimism and thrill. When shots dissipated and legs seemed to tire out, all that enchantment shifted to a degree of aggravation.

Most importantly, though, the starters and in general the guys who will see the most playing time this season excelled and offered Magic fans a reason to be very pumped up about the season and the future.

We could emphasize the various things done well in Mexico City.

Andrew Nicholson demonstrated he has a certain set of skills that could transform him into an extremely good pro.

Armon Johnson, who signed right before training camp began, resembled what we so vividly remember of Rafer Alston when he guided the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009. Fittingly, Johnson is wearing the same jersey number that Alston wore during his career.

Jones, who also joined the Magic just a day before Media Day, was arguably the most explosive and multidimensional player on the court for either team.

"Big Baby" was relentless down low -- bullying the opponents, including Anthony Davis, nearly every time he got the ball in the post.

Team chemistry was noticeably present, energy and passion was soaring, commitment to defense was conspicuous and there was no shortage of balance and efficiency.

Following the Hornets' big comeback, resilience and composure still needs some touch up.

And despite a slew of injuries that deprived the Magic of some of their key players, including Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Maurice Harkless and Ish Smith, the Magic had plenty in their arsenal to deliver a solid effort.

Listen; there will be many bumps in the road this season. That’s what happens when a team is initiating a rebuilding plan.

However, if Sunday’s game was any indication of what we can expect this year, you have to pleased about what’s ahead. They look loose and well-coached. 

No, the Magic didn't get a victory. But let's be honest, the final score is irrelevant, which is why Jacque Vaughn had all the backend reserves in the game the entire fourth quarter.

Performance tends to dictate sports conversation. Tomorrow when you report to work or school, there will be compliments for each Magic player and coach. That's what Orlando earns following its effort from Game 1 of this refreshing new era.

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