Depending where you look, NBA experts are predicting the Orlando Magic will finish the regular season anywhere from 11th to last in the Eastern Conference.
The preseason did little to change those perceptions, but the preseason resulted in a dream come true for Mount Dora’s Solomon Jones, who made the Magic’s regular-season roster.
In their exhibition finale Friday night, as they lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 101-82, the Magic displayed many of the same weaknesses that plagued them all month long: too many turnovers, an inability to defend without fouling and some suspect defense.
“It was a good opportunity for the coaches to kind of get a feel for our group as a whole,” swingman Arron Afflalo said. “To give some of the veterans significant minutes probably wouldn’t have been beneficial for the group.”
After the exhibition ended, Magic officials announced they had waived four players on non-guaranteed contracts: center Mickell Gladness, guard Manny Harris, swingman Kris Joseph and their second-round pick, combo forward Romero Osby.
Jones, a 29-year-old journeyman center/power forward, earned the last roster spot. The roster now stands at the NBA maximum of 15 players, including Hedo Turkoglu.
Jones wasn’t available for comment after the team announced its roster moves.
In addition to Jones making the team, the eight exhibition games produced other positives, including the energetic play of rookie guard Victor Oladipo and improved ball-handling from small forward Maurice Harkless.
To be sure, it’s dangerous to put too much credence into what happens during meaningless exhibition games.
But, still, some of the problems were reminiscent of Orlando’s struggles last season, when they finished with an NBA-worst 20-62 record.
In eight preseason games, they finished 2-6.
Orlando committed 20.6 turnovers per game. The Magic also allowed their opponents to attempt 28.5 free throws per game.
One of the problems might have been continuity. Coach Jacque Vaughn played his veterans limited minutes; veteran point guard Jameer Nelson only played four of the eight exhibitions and sat out the final three.
Only one Magic player started all eight exhibitions: Harkless.
“I pretty much have a feel for playing with everyone now,” Harkless said. “I think [Vaughn] did a good job of everyone playing together a good amount of minutes.”
Friday’s exhibition yielded one frightening moment during the second quarter for the announced crowd of 13,401.
Pelicans center Greg Stiemsma blocked a shot and then dived into the courtside seats for the loose ball. He collided with a pregnant former Magic Dancer who was sitting in the second row, and the impact flipped her onto the ground.
Stiemsma and her husband helped her up immediately, and she watched some of the third quarter from a much safer seat in Amway Center’s stands.
Before the preseason started, Vaughn said his top priority was to keep his players completely healthy.
But coaches can’t control that.
Young combo forward Tobias Harris seems unlikely to play anytime soon because of a sprained left ankle.
Harris has worn a walking boot over his left foot since he aggravated the ankle last weekend.
Could it take him a while to heal?
“Yes, it might,” Harris said. “But I’m just trying to be as conscientious as I can with my rehab and come in every day and get it better. Hopefully, I’ll be back out on the court soon.”
For now, Harris’ absence slightly clarifies how Vaughn will structure his starting lineup when the regular season begins Tuesday against the Indiana Pacers.
Harris was a contender to be the team’s starting power forward, but now it appears that Vaughn will choose between Kyle O’Quinn, Jason Maxiell and Andrew Nicholson early in the regular season.
Vaughn said he hasn’t made his decision about who will start at power forward Tuesday night in Indianapolis.
Oladipo almost certainly will be the first guard off the Magic’s bench.
He attended Indiana University, and he’s already been inundated with ticket requests.
“It’s going to be fun,” Oladipo said. “My family’s going to be there. Friends, classmates. It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere, so I’m looking forward to that, too.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun