In less than 24 hours, fans will be treated to the first game of the year. To kick things off, the schedule makers were kind -- the Orlando Magic. Last season, they finished with the third worst record in the league at 23-59, and despite the start of a new season, they're already well behind the eight ball.
After surgery to repair a facial fracture, Orlando's Victor Oladipo is expected to miss a month, league sources told Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) October 25, 2014
With the departures of Aaron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, Oladipo was going to be counted on to lead the team. Instead, they're now going to have to turn to Evan Fournier and Ben Gordon.
To further complicate the lineup, their big off-season signing, Channing Frye is slated to miss the game as well.
The Magic are not saying it definitively, but I'd be very surprised if Channing Frye (knee) plays tomorrow night.— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) October 27, 2014
Last season, the Pelicans split the season series (1-1) and were saddled with that loss in just the second game of the year, a 110-90 shellacking. In rereading the game recap, it was sad to recall that at such an early point in the season, I was already bemoaning Greg Stiemsma while asking for more shot attempts from Anthony Morrow.
Moving on, what do the Pelicans need to do to walk away with a win?
Three Keys to Victory:
- Contain Tobias Harris. There has been a lot of chatter this preseason that Harris is ready to bounce back after an injury plagued 2013-14 campaign. No Oladipo and Frye, the Magic will be keen on his production. With Tyreke Evans set to start at SF, it'll be interesting to watch how well Evans contains a player 3 inches taller and more athletically gifted. As evidenced by Harris' shot chart, he is successful at getting attempts around the rim and prefers the left side of the floor. Will the Pelicans attempt to push him out of his comfort zones?
- Pressure the back court. Luke Ridnour and Maurice Harkless will likely be the starters at guard. Ridnour is well past his prime and Harkless is known much more for defensive exploits. Fournier, Gordon and rookie Elfrid Payton will be backing them up. During the preseason, the Magic averaged nearly 18 turnovers a game. If the Pelicans can just mildly be disruptive on defense, they should be able to give the Magic fits all night and make it difficult for Nikola Vucevic to have an impact.
- Offensive execution. Last year, the Magic's offense was bad by most metrics, but their defense was usually around average. They were good in three key areas though: opponent FTA, opponent eFG% and defensive rebounding. The Pelicans need to be careful with the ball and look to take smart shots. Otherwise, this game could turn into a defensive grind which would give the Magic a decent chance for the upset.