Orlando Magic at New Orleans Pelicans: Game Preview

Wendell Carter Jr.
by Dan Savage

NEW ORLEANS – The Orlando Magic close out the road portion of their preseason schedule when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

Orlando will look to build on a strong opening preseason performance where it put a number of its key team tenets on display against a tough and talented Celtics squad.

Throughout training camp, Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley has emphasized his desire for the team to play unselfish and defensive-minded basketball and those qualities were evident on the floor in Boston.

While it’s hard to make much of small statistical sample sizes – especially those that occur in preseason – Orlando had the third-highest assist percentage (69.4) and the fourth-best defensive rating (96.1) of any team in its opener thus far.

“Defensively, I felt we did a really good job,” said Wendell Carter Jr., who notched 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes of action. “Boston has two really good offensive players and I felt like we beat them, especially in the first half. We played the right way. We moved the ball a lot – we had twenty-five assists last night. We did everything the right way. So, I think we can build off of that. … I feel like we’re going to shock a lot of people this year.”

In the opener, Orlando flashed its versatility. Not only did it start the contest with a three-guard lineup, featuring rookie point guard Jalen Suggs and veteran shooting guards Terrence Ross and Gary Harris, but it also rolled out a pair of centers together with Mo Bamba and Moe Wagner both having success pacing the second unit.

Wagner went 4-for-7 from distance on his way to 16 points, while Bamba tallied 13 points and 10 rebounds. Look for the Magic to continue to tinker with that versatility among their floor-spacing five men and roll out different combinations of Carter, Bamba and Wagner throughout the remainder of the preseason.

“I feel like that’s a good thing,” Carter said. “I feel like (our) big men, especially defensively are able to guard multiple positions. Offensively, like I said earlier, we all can space the floor, we all can shoot really well. That just opens up the game for everybody else. The opportunity that we may have of all playing together, it’s just exciting knowing that we all play for one another and that we just make each other better.”

The Magic’s next chance to examine rotations and put their training camp principles to the test comes in New Orleans. The Pelicans are also led by a first-year head coach in Willie Green, who like Mosley, is emphasizing defense and hoping to cultivate a sense of camaraderie amongst a young group.

“I’m excited for him,” said Magic guard E’Twaun Moore, who spent time with Green in Phoenix last season while the Pelicans’ new head coach was an assistant there. “He did a great job with us last year. He anchored our defense. He was a huge part of our run when we went to the Finals. He’s just a great guy. Good coach. So, I was excited for him. I think he’s going to have a great time here and a great career as a head coach.”

IN AND OUT: The Magic’s injury report remains the same. Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee) and Chuma Okeke (right hip; bone bruise) are all out.

For New Orleans, Jonas Valanciunas (strained right thumb) is probable, while Jaxson Hayes (left ankle sprain) and Zion Williamson (right foot surgery) are out.

QUOTES TO NOTE: “He’s a great leader. First and foremost, he’s our leader. He sets the tone each and every day. How we come in and work, how we come in and prepare. That translates to the games. Just (having) him with that leadership is great. I’m just here to back him up. I always tell him that, but I just want to be an extension of him. Try to help relay his message, try to keep our guys together, and try to keep us going forward.” – Moore on Mosley.

“(That shows) my effort. That takes no skill at all every night. It just takes you wanting to go out there and actually do it and give it your all. Again, shots are going to fall. Sometimes the ball is going to bounce your way, sometimes it isn’t, but defensively, rebounding, talking, all those things are things that take no talent, and you can do every night. Really doing those things, the little things to help swing momentum.” – Suggs on his two blocks, which came on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter against Boston’s Robert Williams III and Jayson Tatum.

RIVALS REPORT: In the second edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Pelicans studio host and radio analyst Daniel Sallerson. Prior to spending the last 10-plus years with New Orleans, Sallerson was a co-worker of mine at the Magic. We were able to catch up upon my arrival in New Orleans and talk about the upcoming matchup between the Magic and the Pelicans.

Savage: “I know you just have training camp and one preseason game under your belt, but what’s stood out to you so far about first-year head coach Willie Green?”

Sallerson: “You can just tell the energy is there with this team based on him. He’s kind of a coach that lays back a little and let’s his assistant coaches do a lot of the work during training camp practices. He’ll definitely chime in when he feels like he needs to. But a lot of players have talked about how he lets the offense be a little bit more free flowing than it has in the past. He allows them to make some mistakes, but he also teaches them as they make these mistakes. With Willie, it’s a different approach than what we’ve had in the past. Everyone seems to really like him right now and this team has had a really good week of training camp. A tough loss (on Monday) against Minnesota in preseason play, but the energy has been there the entire camp. The players seem to be getting along and the players seem to be really gravitating towards coach. So far, so good.”

Savage: “Speaking of that preseason game, we got our first look at rookie Trey Murphy in a Pelicans uniform. What were your takeaways from his performance in the opener?”

Sallerson: “Knocking down six threes in his preseason debut is what sticks out. The guy can knock them down from anywhere. He was hitting them from both corners last night. He’s really confident in himself and confident in his shot. If defenses are going to leave him open, then he’s going to make them pay. I thought he had a really solid night. He was also really good defensively as well. He was a two-way player at Virginia. Just his confidence level and knowing that (on Monday) in his first game he looked natural and comfortable out there. The fact that he’s going to be one of the main three-point threats for the Pelicans; the future is bright for him. He had a solid debut.”

Savage: “He won’t play tomorrow or this preseason, but how is everything going with Zion Williamson and his recovery from offseason foot surgery?”

Sallerson: “He’s on track according to head coach Willie Green. He’s been doing a lot of exercises off the court and watching each training camp as well. The projection is still for opening night in a couple of weeks. But he’s progressing well. No setbacks. And hopefully we’ll see him on October 20th.”

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