Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs: Game Preview

Magic Open Regular Season in San Antonio
Jalen Suggs
by Dan Savage

It all starts tonight.

The Orlando Magic tip off their 2021-22 NBA regular season campaign on Wednesday when they visit the San Antonio Spurs at 8:30 p.m. ET.

In addition to opening the regular season for Orlando, the contest will also mark the first official NBA games for Magic rookies Jalen Suggs, the fifth overall pick, and Franz Wagner, selected eighth overall.

Suggs missed Orlando’s preseason finale against the Boston Celtics and several practices with an illness. However, the 6-foot-5 combo guard is feeling better and eager to make his league debut.

“It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it,” said Suggs, who’s slowly been able to regain his conditioning and return to the gym the past three days after recovering from a stomach virus. “Full crowd, people back in the stands, everybody is hyped up (and) ready to go. Again, it’s the start of a new season. So, I’m excited for it (and) looking forward to it.”

The rookies won’t be the only ones making their association debuts on Wednesday. The opener will also be the first official game for the Magic’s Jamahl Mosley as a head coach in this league.

While it will take some time to get a full sense of his coaching style and tendencies, if preseason and training camp have been any indication, the 15th head coach in franchise history will expect his team to play with pace, space and the pass on the offensive end and be locked in and give high-energy and effort defensively.

“We have to make sure we try to keep (San Antonio) in the halfcourt,” said Mosley of a young and athletic Spurs team that averaged 12.8 points per game in transition during the preseason. “But the way that they also execute by moving the basketball. Getting out and running. Making sure that we tighten up our offense and making sure that we get the shots that we want, so it allows us to be balanced on the defensive end.”

In preseason, the Magic were exceptional at protecting the rim. Teams averaged just 35.5 points in the paint, lowest in the NBA. The strides made by Mo Bamba had a heavy impact in this area as the 7-foot center ranked first in the league in blocks over four preseason contests, averaging 3.8 swats per game.

“I love our length, our ability to show a crowd protecting the rim,” Mosley explained. “I think that’s going to be big for us. Our guards are doing a good job of containing, but also funneling those guards to the bigs, which we’re doing a good job of protecting that rim. I think that’s one area that really stands out for me.”

IN AND OUT: For the Magic, 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) are all out.

For San Antonio, Jock Landale (concussion) is questionable, while Devontae Cacok (not with team) and Zach Collins (left ankle; stress fracture) are out.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Everybody here is excited and ready to go. Our chemistry and just our bond as a team. I think the Charleston trip really helped and since then everybody has kind of really opened up, gotten to know each other, and just loved being around each other. Again, I think that’s what makes it so easy for us to come in and work and get better together. So, everybody is excited. I know I can’t wait to get on the road and just spend time with everybody and get this thing going.” - Suggs

RIVALS REPORT: We tip off our regular season Rivals Report series with KENS 5 San Antonio Spurs Beat Reporter Jeff Garcia. He was kind enough to take the time to answer a few key questions about the Spurs prior to their opener against the Magic.

Savage: “Heading into the regular season, who do you think the focal points will be for San Antonio’s offense against Orlando?”

Garcia: “That’s a great question. With a team that’s going to be venturing into the unknown, I think that’s exactly what we’re going to find out. We’re going to sift through and find out who will be the knowns. (Head coach Gregg) Popovich mentioned this on media day when he was asked the exact same question. His reaction was ‘you tell me.’ And he laughed. That’s what’s going to be exciting about it. This is a team with a bunch of young players that are looking to take the next step in their development. There are no more veterans. There’s no more Rudy Gay. There’s no more DeMar DeRozan. There’s no more LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s their show now. But there are two who look like they could be the focal point as the season begins and moves forward in Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson. You look at those two and they were the two leading scorers for San Antonio in the preseason. Murray had seventeen points per game. Keldon Johnson had fifteen. Those numbers already tell you just how much the Spurs are going to need help on the offensive end. It looks like it may be an offense by committee, a focal point by committee. One day it’s going to be Dejounte Murray. The next day it could be Derrick White. The next day it could be Devin Vassell. That’s what is exciting about this club because for the first time in a long time there are no go-tos for San Antonio. There’s no give it to DeMar, he’s going to lead the way. There’s no, give it to LaMarcus Aldridge, he’s going to lead the way. That’s gone. But, if we had to put pen to paper, I would look at Murray and Johnson.”

Savage: “I noticed in the preseason that San Antonio was impressive with its transition defense. Did that stand out to you and what have you noticed about the Spurs on the defensive end?”

Garcia: “It really ties into Popovich. It’s something he’s been hammering since he took over the reins in San Antonio decades ago: defense, defense, defense. Once again, you see it with this very young squad. Offensively, I think they’ll sort their way out. But already – at least through preseason action – we can see that the defensive end may be their bread and butter. Again, take it for what it’s worth, it is preseason, but they were ranked sixth in the league in rebounding. Jakob Poeltl is leading the way in blocks and in rebounds. Also, you look at Thad Young. He led the Spurs with 1.7 steals per game this preseason. You kind of look through all that and it appears that the Spurs are going to create a lot of offense, a lot of high-paced, high-action, up-and-down-the-court offense via their defense. And with players like Dejounte Murray, who’s been named to an All-NBA Defensive Team already in his career and Jakob Poeltl, one of the best defensive centers in the league, and Derrick White, a guy who can pick up charges. He actually lost a tooth during one game because he was picking up charges left and right. These guys are really committed to defense. Even a young guy like Devin Vassell. You saw in his rookie season the makings of a really solid defender and I think he’s going to take another leap in that department this upcoming season. I think defensively, that’s where they’re really going to see themselves shine. And I think the offense will be sorted out as the season goes on.”

Savage: “Is there anything else that really stood out to you this preseason that Magic fans should be looking out for in this meeting with the Spurs?”

Garcia: “A couple of things. Bryn Forbes. He stood out from the three-point line. This is a guy that they brought back to address their glaring weakness from last season, which was a lack of three-point shooting. They were dead last in just attempts. Attempts alone. They just didn’t take them. Here comes Bryn Forbes and wow, what an impact. In five preseason games, he shot forty-eight percent. He made about three per game. That’s exactly what this young team needs. So, Bryn Forbes is a player that Magic fans can keep an eye on. Also, keep an eye on pace. The Spurs are playing faster. I think Popovich kind of has to, based on the makeup of the roster. He has a lot of young, athletic guys that just want to get up and down the court. Spurs fans are going to enjoy that. So, that’s something to keep an eye on. Pace, the shooting of Bryn Forbes and – as a bonus – a guy to keep an eye on is Keldon Johnson. Just to see if he’s going to take that next step in his development, which many would point to his outside shooting. If the Magic want to key on him and slow him down (currently) it’s pretty simple. Just sag on him because he really does not take that many threes. His outside shot is iffy. But if he starts knocking that down that could be a big headache for the Magic defense on Wednesday in San Antonio. So, those are the three things to keep an eye on for those tuning in.”

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