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Orlando Magic even making the preseason fun to watch

Preseason basketball isn’t supposed to be fun, or worth talking about, and yet the Orlando Magic are a must watch already.

We have reached arguably the most frustrating period of the NBA’s calendar. One where regular season games, and meaningful basketball, are tantalizingly close, yet still remain out of reach. A time where all eyes should be on the season ahead, but instead an international incident is the dominating conversation at present.

Lost amid all of this, as it usually is, are the preseason games currently taking place. Mercilessly shortened a couple of years back, they are now seen, more than ever, as an exercise in brand exposure around the world.

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The Houston Rockets are, as fate would have it, are finishing up a trip to Asia, while Australian and, yep, Chinese teams have traveled to America to take on high-profile opponents.

Even the superstars are getting some run, although the social media accounts of certain high-profile organizations may be getting a little bit too into these glorified exhibition runs. Much like the NBA’s Summer League, they can’t tell us anything about young or established players, except for potentially how out of shape they are.

Which means we shouldn’t even be talking about the Orlando Magic right now, because like everybody else they are 0-0, with a competitive ball not being bounced for a couple of weeks yet. Only we’re not going to do that and instead are going to lose ourselves in a couple of games that have already been forgotten about.

Why? Well because if you’re a Magic fan, then you’re probably already in love with this version of the team. That’s why.

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The Magic have been a tough organization to love for a long time now. Their disastrous split from previous franchise darling Dwight Howard leading to a prolonged, but never quite bad enough to be No. 1 pick in the draft bad, rebuild which yielded a lot of young players who now ply their trade elsewhere.

There were the Devyn Marbles and the Stephen Zimmermans, while the oddball combo of Brandon Jennings and Serge Ibaka stank of a former regime that had run out of ideas and was reaching to become an eighth seed, at best, as quickly as they could.

In the last couple of years they’ve gotten themselves together though, thanks to the much-needed leadership of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond, who came from elsewhere like saviors in the night to lift the Magic out of mediocrity. It took a little bit of time, but drafting Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba in back-to-back drafts gave them reason for hope.

All of which is to say, the Magic have arrived on the cusp of the 2019-20 season off the back of a playoff appearance last season and the continuity of bringing their core players back to pair with the young guys on the team. Yes, it is only the preseason, but they look good. Like, win over 50 games good.

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Which is why you have probably fallen in love with the team, if you hadn’t already, after only three meaningless games. There’s center Nikola Vucevic, an All-Star last season, drilling 3-pointers even more convincingly than before, while the Detroit Pistons broadcast team purrs about how he’s not done playing in the midseason exhibition.

Or what about Aaron Gordon? Primed by many to have a true breakout campaign, he has looked like he is getting closer to star status himself, thanks to some great offensive performances in two of the wins so far over the Pistons and San Antonio Spurs.

He was taken out of the win over the Atlanta Hawks because of a jaw contusion, more as a precaution than anything else. But it didn’t matter, Gordon’s potential to take another leap, especially offensively, was noted even during the offseason.

That’s what has been so fun to watch unfold though, we knew that defensively they would be able to take care of themselves. They established this last year, and had the third best defensive record after the All-Star break.

Offensively, however, they have looked so smooth and fluid that it inspires real hope that they can be much-improved on this end. It has also been just fun to watch as well, as they have piled up 125 points against the Spurs and 115 against the Pistons. They only had 97 against the Hawks, but there was still a lot to like.

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Gordon had 13 points in the first quarter on the way to 25 overall in Detroit, while Vucevic posted his standard double-double, with 21 points and 10 rebounds. That is all really great to see and promising for the season ahead, and that’s without even getting to the good stuff.

Isaac was bringing the ball up the court occasionally and setting up teammates, his impressive handling and vision on full display. If the Magic are to make a leap this year, and it sure looks like they will, then the improvement of Isaac will be key to that. Through three games that don’t count, that looks like it will be the case.

You know what makes this roster even more lovable right now though?

Not even including sixth man supreme Terrence Ross, who poured in a team-high 20 points against the Hawks. Or Khem Birch, who has somehow found himself as the third-string center despite some brutish displays for club and country over the last 12 months (and a made 3-pointer against the Hawks!).

@Khem_Birch is the next Ben Wallace pic.twitter.com/3Iw6h5Me19

— Rayshard❼ (@Rayshard07) October 6, 2019

It is the hidden gems, ones that won’t stay that way for very long. Like Bamba, who against the Spurs looked like a different player compared to the one struck by injury in his rookie campaign. He had 18 points, including a made 3-pointer. There was confidence and involvement on both ends, as he looks to push Vucevic for more minutes.

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Then there’s Markelle Fultz. The former first overall pick that cost the Magic Jonathon Simmons and three second-round picks from the Philadelphia 76ers.

It would be fair to say that him playing at all during these preseason games, never mind shooting fadeaway jumpers after spinning into the paint and even dunking, is the most exciting development in the league as a whole (depending on how you feel about Ben Simmons making a 3-pointer that was celebrated like a game winner).

😤H MY, @MARKELLEF! #MagicAboveAllpic.twitter.com/HyYtfh9zOt

— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) October 8, 2019

He’s come off the bench for all three games. He’s mixed playing with some starters, as well as the likely bench unit. His passing is already among the best on the roster. He’s sharing the court with fellow point guards D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams and, in this tiny sample size, it has worked well.

Three games. Three games is all it took to win over those who maybe weren’t convinced. That this can be among the most likable Magic outfits of all time, while also being really, really good. There may yet be the star who comes to join them down the road, but for now it doesn’t matter.

They have a head coach in Steve Clifford who won’t let them get too ahead of themselves, even if the fans already have. Fans that have sprouted up on social media where they didn’t used to be. Back when Elfrid Payton was posting triple-doubles and what few fans there actually were didn’t mind seeing the back of Victor Oladipo.

The Orlando Magic. How can you not love this team? They’re about to become darlings of the League Pass world, and they’re going to continue to surprise a lot of people as they do it. All it took was three, empty, already forgotten about, games.

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