By John Denton
Oct. 8, 2013
ORLANDO – They’ve forged an unbreakable chemistry through sweat, sacrifice and a determined desire to get better both individually and as a team. Now, on the cusp of their first preseason game, an Orlando Magic team that has basically worked together since April is ready for its big unveiling.
When Orlando faces the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night in Jacksonville it will be the team’s first chance to show off the hard work that it has put in. Just two weeks after last season ended many of the Magic’s players were back in the gym, working to improve themselves so that the team can make major strides this season. Many of those players stayed in Orlando throughout the summer, driven by last season’s struggles and motivated by a desire to become great in the near future.
And when the Magic hit the floor at Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena at 7 p.m., the differences should be quite noticeable throughout the roster.
Fresh off a final 27-game stretch where he averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds – something only Al Horford, David Lee, LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Jefferson accomplished last year over a full NBA season – forward Tobias Harris will debut a new 240-pound physique that should allow him to be even more of a matchup nightmare for opposing power forwards.
The confidence of center Nikola Vucevic is soaring after he closed last season with a surge and on Wednesday he’ll be able to show off the post moves he’s worked hard to add to his game. And, oh yeah, he might grab a rebound or two while he’s at it.
Maurice Harkless, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson were mostly rail-thin rookies last season, but they have all added much-needed bulk through a summer of intense weight work. Harkless and Nicholson are noticeably bigger through the arms and chest – something that should make them much better defensively this season. And O’Quinn has evolved into one of the team’s most physical players as he works to earn more playing time as a reserve center and power forward.
Then, there’s quite possibly the biggest unveiling of all in rookie guard Victor Oladipo. He was the No. 2 pick in the June NBA Draft and he lived up to that enormous promise during the summer league with some stellar play. Already, he’s caught the eye of Magic veterans Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, and he’s eager to get out on the NBA and show the basketball world his skills as a do-everything guard.
``This is like the first chapter in – I’m crossing my fingers – a long, long journey. A long, long, long, long, long journey,’’ Oladipo said last week following his first official NBA practice. ``It’s always memorable (your first time). I’m just happy to be here and I’m trying to take full advantage of it every day.’’
With so much anticipation heading into the new-look Magic’s preseason opener, here are five questions that could be cleared up Wednesday night against the Pelicans:
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