2. Nikola Vucevic is now one of the premier bigs in the NBA. He can score at will from either block and elbow against anyone. While he only scored 15 points in 34 minutes, he went at future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol with a foray of offensive moves. He also pulled down 11 rebounds, 3 on the offensive end.
3. Aaron Gordon needs more minutes, especially with the first unit guys. He’s active on both the offensive and defensive boards (7 rebounds vs. Chicago), blocking shots (2 vs. Chicago), he’s hitting perimeter shots to stretch the defense, and he’s another ball handler who can make plays for others.
In the first quarter he grabbed a defensive rebound and pushed it up the court for a lay-up when no Bulls defender stepped up to stop him. His activity through these first three games has been key in sparking the second unit. A lineup of Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo plus Gordon make up a quick, versatile unit that is difficult for many teams to matchup with. Especially on the defensive end where their athleticism would allow them to switch seamlessly.
4. Head coach Scott Skiles isn’t married to a particular rotation and is willing to adjust on the fly. Against the Bulls he played twelve guys, two of them for the first time this season (Channing Frye & Andrew Nicholson.) Sunday night in the third quarter he trotted out the biggest lineup we’ve seen in this young season. Vucevic at center, Jason Smith at power forward and Gordon at small forward.
Skiles even switched up his back-court rotation, going with Shabazz Napier—who played only 30 seconds this season, before Sunday night—as his first point guard off the bench to replace Payton. In the first two games, C.J. Watson was his first choice. We also saw less of rookie Mario Hezonja. Hezonja had played 25:16 and 14:16 minutes per game in the first two; only 5 minutes Sunday night.
5. This team will never quit. While they had the lead for most of their first two games against the Washington Wizards and OKC, when the going got tough they did not fold. Down 17 points in the 4th quarter to the Bulls, the Blue & White went on a 14-0 run to cut the lead to 82-83 with a little over 4 minutes remaining. The only starter on the floor during the run, Victor Oladipo. They outscored Chicago 47-38 in the second half, 24-17 in the fourth.
I’ve said it before, this team will make the playoffs. For now, disregard the 0-3 record and just look at the quality of teams they’ve faced. 2 teams that made it to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2014 and a team that very well could’ve competed for a NBA Championship had it not been stricken with the injury bug. The schedule makers have done no favors for the young Magic, and it won’t get easier over the next three games; at Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, at James Harden and Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets before returning to central Florida to face the Toronto Raptors. It’s a tough road to haul, but these are the games that will build the character they’ll need to finish 2015-2016 with a playoff trip.