Opening night preview: Magic at Pelicans
The third game on the opening night schedule won’t be nationally televised, and features two teams that are far less appealing to a broader audience at first glance.
But for League Pass junkies that will have two screens going for the 8 p.m. ET tip-off, there are a couple of compelling reasons to watch the Magic take on the Pelicans. And Anthony Davis is at the top of that list.
Though entering just his third season, many would make the case that Davis is already the league’s third best player. His length and athleticism are both elite, and he plays at an All-Star level on both ends of the floor. In addition to being one of only five players to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game last season, Davis led the league in blocked shots with an average of 2.8 per contest.
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The Pelicans got him some help on the defensive end of the floor with the offseason acquisition of Omer Asik, who was unhappy with his role coming off the bench in Houston once Dwight Howard came to the Rockets. He says he just wants to defend and rebound in New Orleans, which should pay immediate dividends for a team that ranked just 25th in defensive efficiency last season.
While the Pelicans should certainly be improved, they’re not without their issues. Head coach Monty Williams has been tinkering with his starting lineup all preseason long, trying to find an answer at the four. Ryan Anderson would be ideal there, but Williams seems to want to bring him off the bench, and with good reason. Depth is the biggest problem facing this New Orleans team, which would appear to be forced to play rotational roulette once you get past its top six players.
Without a legitimate option at small forward, Williams went with a three-guard lineup in the team’s final two preseason games. It may be matchup dependent, but as long as Anderson is being used with the second unit, that would seem to be the best option.
On Orlando’s side, they will miss the playmaking of Victor Oladipo, who’s expected to miss the first month of the season after undergoing surgery for a facial fracture. That opens the door for rookie Elfrid Payton to get plenty of time at point guard, while running the offense through Tobias Harris and the recently-rich Nikola Vucevic.
The Magic are still rebuilding, and the priority is to continue to develop talent. But they added Channing Frye, Ben Gordon and Luke Ridnour to give the team some sort of veteran presence, though Frye is out with an MCL sprain and the other two will likely be limited to contributing off the bench -- if not on opening night, then almost certainly as the season progresses.
The oddsmakers like New Orleans by double digits in this one, and it’s difficult to disagree. With the improved defense on the Pelicans side and many more weapons offensively, this one feels like it could get ugly for the Magic before it’s ultimately finished.