Orlando Magic vs. Charlotte Hornets: Game Preview

Franz Wagner
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO – At this stage of the Orlando Magic’s development there is little margin for error.

The Magic are too young and inexperienced to be able to stray away from their team principles and still have success against playoff-caliber squads.

In its last contest, a road affair against the Miami Heat on the second night of a back-to-back, Orlando learned that lesson the hard way. Its 18 turnovers – which turned into 21 fastbreak points for the Heat – and inability to protect the paint proved too costly to overcome.

Now, the Magic (1-3) will look to bounce back when they return to their home floor at Amway Center on Wednesday for a Southeast Division showdown with the Charlotte Hornets (3-1) at 7 p.m. ET.

“Going into Wednesday’s game, we have to lock in and focus,” said Orlando guard R.J. Hampton, who posted 12 points, six rebounds and four assists off the bench in the team’s most recent outing. “Take these lessons that we learned against two great teams (New York and Miami) and apply those to our next game and further games down the line.”

One of those takeaways is staying true to head coach Jamahl Mosley’s tenet of playing with the pass even through difficult offensive stretches. Through four games, those lulls have often come once the Magic break their starting lineup.

Thus far, that grouping has had success. Orlando’s starting unit of Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba currently holds the league’s fifth-best net rating for any lineup that’s played at least 25 minutes together on the floor this season. Quite remarkable, especially when you take into consideration that it’s the youngest opening night starting lineup in league history since the NBA began tracking starters in 1970-71.

“This is the first week, first couple games of the season, and already everybody kind of knows their own tendencies (and) what the guy next to them wants to do,” said rookie Franz Wagner, who’s scored in double figures in every contest this season. “I’m feeling more comfortable and I’m getting to know my teammates a lot better. They’re getting a better feel for what I can do out there. (We need) to keep building on that and try to get better every day.”

Part of that improvement will need to be ball security. The Magic will once again face a high-end opponent on Wednesday that capitalizes on the opposition’s mistakes.

Through four games, the Hornets have the league’s second-highest scoring offense (121.5 ppg.) and rank second in points off turnovers (26.0).

“We have to do a better job of just taking care of the basketball,” Mosley explained. “(The Heat game was) similar to the first New York game where we had nineteen turnovers. So, just being able to get those possessions and take care of the basketball is the one thing that stands out the most to me right now.”

IN AND OUT: Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) and Chuma Okeke (right hip; bone bruise) all remain out for Orlando.

For Charlotte, Terry Rozier (right ankle sprain) is doubtful and P.J. Washington (right knee sprain) is out.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I think it’s just about playing hard as I continue to grow as a player and with my skillset and different things on the court. Playing hard (and) I think good things will happen for me and my teammates. Just growing and learning. Second year, it’s just growing and learning.” – Hampton on his comfort level as he goes through his second NBA season.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by special guest, Hornets.com beat writer Sam Perley, who’s covered the team for the past eight seasons. He’s a great resource for all things Buzz City, including the Hornets and their NBA 2K League squad. He was generous enough to take the time to answer three key questions heading into their matchup with the Magic.

Savage: “The Hornets have the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week in Miles Bridges. How impressive has his start to the season been?”

Perley: “Miles Bridges has been extraordinary. You always hope for your young guys to keep making jumps from year to year. And he took a big jump last year filling in when Gordon Hayward got hurt in April and May and he was basically the team’s starting three for the last six weeks. He averaged eighteen or nineteen points and he’s come in this year really kind of fueled by the play-in game loss last year. He’s just been extraordinary, scoring at all three levels right now. He’s attacking the basket, rebounding, his defense has been great, (and he’s) passing the ball. He’s scoring an average of twenty-six, twenty-seven points per game the last three games and really kind of stepping up in a big way, especially with Terry Rozier out. The internal development that he’s made the last three months of playing has been exactly what the Hornets have needed. He’s been a big key to the offense so far.”

Savage: “The Hornets have a number of rookies that we haven’t had the chance to see yet this season. What have you seen from the rookies in training camp and the preseason, because I know some of them have yet to crack the rotation yet in regular season action?”

Perley: “Yeah. I think it was just a really competitive camp. It’s not a knock on the rookies, but James Bouknight and Kai Jones, specifically, haven’t played at all because the rotation for the most part has been healthy and impact guys like Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels, and P.J. Washington have really kind of stepped up a little bit. So, it’s not really a knock on them, but they just haven’t had the opportunities yet. We saw in preseason James Bouknight played in, I think, every game and had a seventeen-point game (and) a twenty-point game. He’s a really, really talented scorer. Right now, for him, he’s just kind of figuring out his role, which is going to be a little less ball dominant than it was at UConn. And then Kai Jones too. He’s kind of penciled in as maybe a four or maybe a small-ball five. He’ll be raw. He didn’t play a whole lot at Texas. He only really started playing basketball five or six years ago on a serious level in the Bahamas. So, he’s still relatively new to the sport. I think there’s a lot of potential for those two guys, but I think it’s kind of a good thing that the reason they’re not getting minutes right now is just because other guys have been playing really, really well right now. The Hornets are riding those guys right now because it appears to be working.”

Savage: “Other than Bridges, which we spoke about, what have been some of the other keys to the Hornets’ early season success?”

Perley: “LaMelo Ball has been extraordinary. And the biggest thing with him right now is the three-point shooting. One of the small red flags coming into the draft. I think a lot of his three-point shooting in past environments was just shot selection. As he’s matured, he’s become more disciplined and is taking good shots. I think he’s sixteen-of-thirty-two from three right now. He has the second-most threes through the first four games in team history. He’s got a pair of games (with seven made threes). He’s just shooting with such confidence. He’s at fifty percent right now. He’s tied for first in the league in threes through Monday night. You can just tell. Defenders, particularly against Boston, they’re just playing so far back on him right now. They’re giving about four or five feet out on the perimeter to shoot and guys are just dropping back right now because he’s such a threat. If you play up too close to him, he’s just going to turn the corner on you, get to the rim, and either put it in, get fouled, or dish it. So, he’s been a huge part because the opposing defenses have had to re-tinker their approach to him.

(Also), Kelly Oubre has been great. He’s stepped up as the starting two guard for Terry. We talked about Gordon coming back and looking healthy. Miles. Everyone is kind of contributing right now, which obviously breeds success.”

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