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Despite the young nature of the season so far, tonight’s match up against the Thunder represented a chance for the Magic to make history. Orlando entered the tilt against their Western Conference foe seeking the first 4-0 start since the team sprung into existence, while big man Cheap Nikola Vucevic Jersey needed only a handful of baskets to move into first place on the franchise’s list of all-time made field goals. While the latter of those moments was assured before the first quarter ended, the latter took considerably more time to come to fruition. Still, the Magic did enough late to secure the slice of franchise history, overcoming a plucky Thunder squad and retaining their status as one of only two currently undefeated teams.

The opening minutes revealed much about how the Magic would approach the contest. With Oklahoma both undermanned and undersized Orlando demonstrated their intent to attack the hoop, with each possession predicated on players taking advantage of the lack of resistance offered in the paint. Cheap Aaron Gordon Jersey got that ball rolling with three successive coast-to-coast forays after cleaning the defensive glass, with Cheap Markelle Fultz Jersey and Cheap Dwayne Bacon Jersey following in kind when the opportunity presented itself. 8 of the Magic’s first 10 made baskets came within three feet of the rim, indicating just how fruitful this early penetration was proving to be.

Aaron Gordon breaks down the defense with a euro but a terrific no-look find from Markelle Fultz gets Vucevic the three. pic.twitter.com/8aXw60WhWV

— DoYouBelieveinMagic (@DYBinMagic) December 30, 2020
Unfortunately for Orlando, their own interior defense was just as putrid as their opponent’s. Time and time again the team failed to corral the pick and roll against a stretched out Thunder, leading to a number of minimally contested finishes at the hoop. Things began to settle down in this regard when the second unit checked in, courtesy of some great defensive energy from Cheap Chuma Okeke Jersey and Cheap Michael Carter-Williams Jersey and a general rise in the team’s intensity at this end of the floor. A few timely buckets allowed the Magic to create a small cushion as the quarter came to an end, up 34-27 on the back of a 62.5% conversion rate from the floor.

Terrific bounce pass from MCW to Cheap Khem Birch Jersey who finishes with the slam. pic.twitter.com/OR18IfqaKM

— DoYouBelieveinMagic (@DYBinMagic) December 30, 2020
Points were difficult to come by for Orlando in the opening minutes of the second quarter, with jump shots refusing to go down and the more perimeter-focused offense failing to produce a high level of results. The Thunder were able to capitalize on this sluggishness, reclaiming the lead on a Hamadou Diallo jumper before Gordon nudged the Magic back ahead, 40-39, by converting a difficult lob pass from Cheap Cole Anthony Jersey.

Fingertip finish from Aaron Gordon off of Cole Anthony’s lob in the PnR.
Thus far this season, the Magic have been 24 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions with Anthony on the floor according to @cleantheglass. pic.twitter.com/qVUS3j2vka

— DoYouBelieveinMagic (@DYBinMagic) December 30, 2020
Coming out of a time out the Magic were able to relocate their scoring touch, primarily by again prioritizing playing from the inside. It started with Gordon finding Cheap Terrence Ross Jersey for a sweet finish off a back-door cut, and was supplemented in short order by each of Anthony, Bacon and Vucevic. This helped to swell the lead back to 8 points, 51-43, before the starters — with Okeke in Gordon’s place, checking back in with just over 4 minutes remaining. The two teams largely traded chances over the final stretch of the first half, before a pair of strong drives for the Thunder gave them the final two baskets of the quarter and shrunk Orlando’s lead to just 60-56 at the main break.

– . . . [email protected] ↗️ @TerrenceRoss pic.twitter.com/ICgvJb45fh

— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 30, 2020
Based on the boxscore numbers, Orlando’s advantage at the break probably should have been greater. As a team they shot more accurately from the field (52.2% to 48.9%), had almost twice as many free throw attempts (9 to 5), and were winning the turnover battle (5 to 8). The Magic had generated more assists, more steals, more fastbreak points, and more buckets in the paint, and it was still painfully obvious that the Thunder had no one who could handle Vucevic inside or out. However, there were too many stretches where both the energy and the execution seemed to be lacking, a factor which would have to swing in the second half if they were to commandingly put this one away.

The scrappy nature of the affair continued through the third quarter, with the Magic again failing to seize the ascendancy. Although the defensive effort was better the team was still making mistakes at that end, either over-rotating or failing to close out with impact. This meant that the Thunder were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over, an outcome that was almost single-handedly being matched by Vucevic. He was basically unstoppable on offense, establishing deep position in the paint, making clean finishes at the rim, and whipping the ball with precision to open shooters when the opportunity presented itself. He had 9 points and 2 assists in the quarter, and could have had more of each if teammates had done a more effective job of finishing.

He’s having himself a [email protected] | #MagicTogether pic.twitter.com/IOAfoMpBop

— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 30, 2020
Despite this dominance at the center position, Orlando just couldn’t seem to pull away from the plucky Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a number of big shots during the quarter, giving him 17 points on just 8 shots at this stage, and every time the Magic got one of their own to go Oklahoma City were seemingly able to get a contribution from someone else. When the siren sounded Orlando were only a missed Lu Dort triple away from going into the final period trailing, clinging to an 87-85 lead as the game entered the final twelve minutes.

From the outset it was clear that the fourth quarter would be a more physical affair, with both teams doing more to pack the painted area and the defensive intensity being dialed up a notch. Both teams were able to generate free throw chances on the back of incisive drives, but it was ultimately the Magic’s strong finishing inside that allowed them to steady. Bacon was aggressive in driving to the hoop, dropping in a series of sweet finishes in the quarter’s opening minutes and buoying the offense while Vucevic got a breather and Terrence Ross rested a tweaked hamstring. When Carter-Williams put back Bacon’s first miss of the game — a corner three — it was 99-91 Orlando.

8-for-8 tonight pic.twitter.com/7ugwSsr1J8

— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 30, 2020
SGA continued to pile up buckets for the Thunder, and in turn the Magic went consistently to the man in the middle. The team ran basically every possession through the big guy in the game’s final seven minutes, and he responded as required. He followed a short hook with a smooth baseline jumper, before titling the floor with a cross court pass that allowed MCW to take advantage of space. His gravity on a pick and subsequent roll again opened up space, this time for Cheap Evan Fournier Jersey to find Fultz for a wide open triple. Moments later Vooch again showed off his passing vision, whipping a pass to a spotting-up Ross who shook the closing defender on his way to a mid-range pull up. When the Human Torch got an elbow jumper to go on Orlando’s next possession the lead had swelled to 10 and the game was, for all intents and purposes, sealed.

@MarkelleF | #MagicTogether pic.twitter.com/DPYynQPu8V

— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 30, 2020
The final few minutes played out without too much intrigue, with a limping Ross perhaps the biggest question mark moving forward. For now, the Magic will celebrate the best regular season start in franchise history, advancing to 4-0 courtesy of a 118-107 win.

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The Magic hoped to treat their preseason finale as if it were their regular season opener.

And they did…for three quarters.

Things initially fell apart in the fourth quarter as the Magic turned a 16-point lead into a seven-point deficit and then turned that into a last-second victory, rendering all team stats from the game essentially meaningless. But prior to all of that, the Magic showed encouraging signs in what was a 120-117 victory over the Hornets.

It began with Cheap Nikola Vucevic Jersey starting the game like a Splash Brother, hitting three three-pointers in the games opening minutes as the Magic established an early lead. Steve Clifford said he wants Vucevic shooting more threes this season, and Vooch quickly and effectively took full advantage of that green light on Saturday, hitting 4 of 6 attempts (7-for-11 FG) over 26 minutes to finish with 18 points.

The Magic overall in the first connected on 6 of 11 attempts from deep and shot 52 percent overall in the quarter. Defensively, the Magic denied the Hornets the spacing they received on Thursday night, and forced Charlotte into six turnovers in the opening quarter.

Cheap Aaron Gordon Jersey had his best game of the preseason, though he did show a mix of his ability to be a playmaker while working out of the paint or on drive-and-kicks with a tendency to dribble the Magic right out of an offensive possession. Gordon finished a very active first quarter with seven points, five rebounds and two assists as the Magic built a 17-point lead and closed the quarter up 38-27.

Cole Anthony admittedly described his first preseason performance with the Orlando Magic as terrible, but it didn’t take long for the 20-year-old to bounce back and turn things around.

Anthony closed out the preseason on Saturday by scoring 19 points to help the Magic to a 120-117 win over the Charlotte Hornets. He shot 7-of-15 from the field and had the go-ahead basket, a running floater, with 14.1 seconds left to seal the win.

Over his four preseason games, Anthony led all rookies in scoring (55 points) and made 3-pointers (8) while he was also tied with LaMelo Ball for the most assists (15) among first-year players. His 55 total points ranked 27th among all players.

The top five rookie scorers of the 2020-21 preseason:

Cole Anthony (55 points)
Isaac Okoro (45 points)
Patrick Williams (45 points)
Devin Vassell (41 points)
Desmond Bane (37 points)
Of course, leading the rookie class in scoring won’t earn Anthony any trophies but the strong start shows how much he has improved each game. Anthony knew it would take some time to adjust to the speed of the NBA and he looks much more comfortable than he did in his first game.

The Magic certainly have high expectations this season for Anthony. He projects to play a major role with the team and the confidence he has played with will go a long way as Orlando prepares to tip-off the regular season on Wednesday versus the Miami Heat.

The Magic continued hitting from the perimeter in the second quarter – with three makes coming from Cheap Terrence Ross Jersey – and in the first half combined made 10 of 20 attempts. The defense continued pressuring the Hornets, forcing them into 12 first-half turnovers. All combined it helped the Magic carry a 63-49 lead into the break.

That lead reached as many as 23 in the third after Vooch hit his fourth three of the game and Cheap Evan Fournier Jersey followed with another to make it 89-66 with 3:23 remaining.

That was when the second unit checked in….and never checked out.

Up to that point, the second unit had been perhaps the most positive takeaway in the preseason for the Magic. But this would be a stretch to forget, and Clifford was not about to put his starters back in to clean the mess his reserves had made.

With Cheap Cole Anthony Jersey, Terrence Ross, Michael-Carter Williams, Cheap Chuma Okeke Jersey, and Cheap Khem Birch Jersey on the floor, the Hornets closed the third on a 9-2 run, trimming the Magic lead to 94-78.

That same unit for the Magic was unable to score a point over the first 4:34 of the fourth, during which time the Hornets had opened the quarter on a 23-0 run to take a 101-94 lead with 8:02 left.

A dunk by Okeke ended the drought and sparked a 9-0 Magic run that put them back on top at 103-101 with 5:27 left.

Anthony, who to that point had struggled in the fourth with some untimely turnovers, then went into closer mode, scoring 10 points over the game’s final five minutes. That began with a three off a feed from Okeke to put the Magic ahead 106-102. After an 8-0 Hornets run put them up 115-111, Anthony responded with a drive to cut the Magic deficit to two. Trailing by four with under a minute left, Anthony found Cheap Devin Cannady Jersey, who hit a huge three to pull the Magic within 117-116. On the ensuing Magic possession, Anthony came up with his first NBA game-winner, hitting a go-ahead floater with 14.1 seconds left to give the Magic a 118-117 lead.

He then sealed it with a pair of free throws, helping the Magic finish the preseason with a 2-2 record.

Anthony finished with 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including 2 of 5 from deep. He had four assists, five turnovers and a valuable lesson in cleaning up your own mess at the NBA level.

It was the conclusion of a very impressive preseason for the rookie, who is showing very early signs that the Magic very well may have landed the steal of the 2020 draft.

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With Chuma Okeke having finally signed his rookie contract with the Orlando Magic after a year spent recovering from injury, all eyes will be on him to see how well he competes in the NBA and whether he can stay healthy.
Chuma Okeke was taken with the 16th pick in the 2019 Draft despite suffering an ACL tear in his left knee in March. The Orlando Magic were confident enough in his ability and potential to accept a year without a new first-round rookie, still managing to make the playoffs despite a somewhat unproductive season.

Now, the 22-year-old will join fellow rookie Cole Anthony on a team in need of a boost on offense. Both youngsters are key to helping the Magic improve next season, especially with the roster staying largely the same as last year.

But there will undoubtedly be questions over whether Chuma Okeke can manage a full season in the NBA without setbacks after such a big injury in college. With good options at the forward spots limited due to Jonathan Isaac’s injury, the Magic need Chuma Okeke to take up considerable minutes in the rotation.

Only time will tell if this is the case. There is only so much a player can do to prevent injury without holding anything back on the court. And the Magic are going to observe him carefully.

So far the returns on Okeke have been positive. Coach Steve Clifford has praised Chuma Okeke’s attentiveness and ability to pick things up quickly in practice. Several players have noted Okeke’s shot-making ability. Cheap Khem Birch Jersey called Chuma Okeke a special defender.

He is making an impression. The question is how that translates to actual games when he hits the floor for the first time in nearly two years.

With two new rookies on the roster, the Magic are now in a position where the young talent can be the main focus going forward. Okeke’s fitness will be an important factor behind whether the front office can start moving away from the existing core of more experienced players and instead look towards the future.

And that will be the central story for Okeke in his rookie year.

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Injury concerns
The Orlando Magic have not had good luck with injuries.

Cheap Jonathan Isaac Jersey made his long-awaited return from a spell on the sidelines in the NBA Bubble only to re-injure his knee in a huge blow to the team’s playoff and future hopes.

Cheap Aaron Gordon Jersey also struggled to stay healthy last season, missing the entire first-round series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks after a season filled with minor injuries that slowed him down. Moreover, Cheap Mohamed Bamba Jersey was sent home from Bubble with conditioning concerns after catching COVID-19 earlier this year and is still building up his conditioning. Meanwhile, Cheap Al-Farouq Aminu Jersey missed most of the season with a torn meniscus in his right knee and after a setback is still entering the final stages of his recovery.

Both Bamba and Aminu are still experiencing problems and have not been taking part in contact training, with the latter likely to be out for some time yet after undergoing further surgery on his knee.

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Injuries are a part of basketball, but the Magic have had it worse than most. Staying healthy will be vital if the team is to progress and this has to be the aim for Chuma Okeke, who will play an important part in the forward rotation because of Isaac and Aminu’s injuries.

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford has been impressed with what he’s seen so far from rookie forward Chuma Okeke.

How impressed? Clifford told reporters on Saturday — without hesitation — that Okeke and fellow rookie Cole Anthony are going to play this season. Clifford thinks their initial progress likely will be slowed by a truncated offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic, but he’s taking the long view.

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“I think both of these guys can help us this year,” Clifford said. “It’s going to be tougher for them early, but they’re in my [rotation] plans. I have good confidence in both of them and I like how they play.”

While Anthony seems headed for second-unit point guard duties, Okeke’s role took on a more defined focus last week. Reserve forward Al-Farouq Aminu underwent a procedure to reduce swelling in his right knee and is out indefinitely as he goes through rehabilitation. A torn meniscus in that knee limited Aminu to 18 games last season.

The Magic already are facing a season without Jonathan Isaac, who’s recovering from an ACL tear.

Aminu’s absence has created more of an opportunity for Okeke to carve out a larger role in his rookie season than he perhaps otherwise would have.

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That’s not to say Okeke wouldn’t have been a part of the playing rotation anyway, but Aminu’s setback certainly opens the door wider for Okeke to earn more minutes behind Aaron Gordon at the power forward spot.

The Magic see a bright future for Okeke. They like his defensive versatility, his offensive skill set, his basketball IQ and his work ethic. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman acknowledges that Okeke checks a lot of boxes for the Magic.

Magic rookies Chuma Okeke, Cole Anthony get bigger taste of NBA as team workouts begin
ORLANDO MAGIC
Magic rookies Chuma Okeke, Cole Anthony get bigger taste of NBA as team workouts begin

DEC 04, 2020 AT 6:15 PM
“Well Chuma’s all about the right things. He’s about the work, he’s about the team and he’s about winning, and really everything else just falls to the side after that,” Weltman told the Sentinel last week.

So as fans clamor to see Okeke play, Weltman said it’s important to temper expectations – for now.

It’s also important to maintain some perspective about Okeke, who is coming back from an ACL tear and hasn’t played since March of 2019. Still, Weltman remains confident Okeke will provide a two-way impact.

“Again, as always, I don’t want to put too much pressure on rookies to come in and perform. They have to learn their way through the league, so Chuma and Cole both have to get acclimated to the NBA on and off the court and what that means and how you help your team win and it’s been a long time since Chuma’s played, so even doubly so for Chuma,” Weltman said. “But that said, Chuma is very smart, [a] very skilled player and he’s going to be able to help us on both ends of the floor. We’ll see how quickly he can kind of feel his way back into basketball and feel his way into our league. But we’re excited about his long-term prospects, and I know that whatever Chuma can do he will do short-term, long-term.”

Okeke’s teammates have taken notice of his versatility. Cheap James Ennis Jersey said it’s easy to see Okeke playing either forward position and he likes the rookie’s defense. Ennis also came away impressed after he said Okeke knocked down three 3-pointers during some scrimmage time on Saturday.

“He can stretch the 4, like Gary [Clark]. He can knock down shots,” Ennis said of Okeke. “I saw that today. Everybody saw that today. It’s good to have him back and healthy.”

For his part, Okeke is eager to put his skills on display. He has the size (6-foot-8, 230 pounds) to defend power forwards but the quickness and agility to match up with many wing players. Offensively he can create shots off the dribble and score from the perimeter.

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ORLANDO MAGIC
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“Power forward is a very comfortable position for me, especially on this team,” he said. “I feel like I could space the floor a lot, having to shoot and float for them to shoot the ball like me and put the ball on the floor and create for my teammates, you know, spread the floor and just find my teammates and just be a playmaker,” he said.

If Okeke were to earn the back-up role and subsequently struggle, the Magic can turn to Cheap Gary Clark Jersey. The front office felt strongly about Clark’s play during the restart and playoffs last season and re-signed him to a two-year contract out of free agency.

“We thought Gary played really well last year. We were excited about bringing Gary back,” Weltman said. “Obviously, with the injuries that we’ve been faced with, we definitely felt a need to bolster that position, but that being said, Gary earned a place on this team with the way that he played last year.”

The former Auburn forward averaged 12.0 points per game in his sophomore year before suffering his injury against North Carolina during the NCAA Tournament. Okeke looked like a terrific prospect on both ends of the court having also shown plenty of positive defensive play, a key focus of what the Magic are trying to build around.

A torn ACL is a serious enough injury to have a significant impact on a player’s career. Many players have struggled with knee problems after tearing an ACL, having a serious effect on their careers and ability to reach their full potential. This is also the concern with Isaac.

Most players make full recoveries and have few incidences of recurrence.

There is a good chance Okeke could enjoy a healthy career and grow into the player Orlando hopes he will become, a two-way threat from the perimeter that can also cut to the basket and score. It will just take time for him to get back into the swing of things. This year will be a season of recovery before he can begin working on his skills again.

Many had tipped Okeke to go higher than the 16th pick but his devastating injury caused him to fall in the Draft. For the Magic, the hope will be that they managed to get a guy who shakes off his early injury woes to become something of a steal having been selected outside of the lottery.

Encouraging signs
Chuma Okeke has been taking part in full-contact practice with the Orlando Magic over the past couple of days. Footage of him sinking a three-pointer on Twitter will no doubt excite fans, who will hope he can provide a threat from deep for a team that desperately needs better shooting from beyond the arc.

Moving pictures of the squad 🎥 #MagicTogether pic.twitter.com/NPWhANi1bU

— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 5, 2020

Okeke at this point is just happy to be back on the court and eager to learn everything he can.

The point Okeke makes is an important one. These are very early days for a player coming off a serious injury that is yet to play an NBA game so patience will be required.

But the early signs are encouraging. Steve Clifford has spoken of his satisfaction with Chuma Okeke so far and believes he and other new additions Cheap Cole Anthony Jersey and Cheap Dwayne Bacon Jersey will provide the team with more flexibility and depth.

Clifford has, however, revealed Okeke will be used primarily at the power forward position to start with. One of his strengths is the versatility he possesses, meaning he could have a future at either the 4 or the 3. To start with, it seems we will see him provide valuable backup to Aaron Gordon.

At 6-foot-8, Okeke is probably slightly undersized for the position but possesses a slightly different skill set to Gordon which will help the Magic. Okeke will provide more of a perimeter threat than Gordon allowing him to stretch the floor better, opening up avenues for the likes of Cheap Markelle Fultz Jersey and Cole Anthony.

If Okeke can stay healthy, he will receive some vital minutes backing up Gordon at power forward with the possibility of moving to the small forward position later in the season, somewhere the team is especially lacking.

NEXT: Orlando Magic want focus on getting off to a faster start
The team’s last two first-round picks have presented something of a risk, but risks are what is needed if this team is to move forward. Okeke could become a big player for Orlando in the years to come and that starts with staying healthy and getting some important minutes under his belt next season.