Bringing a tired Magic act to the Far East
Orlando shook off jet lag and handled a Chinese All-Star team. This is good preparation for an early-season schedule that frequently puts the Magic on the road, John Hollinger writes.
MACAU -- It's not often that a team faces a serious challenge with the preseason schedule, but the Orlando Magic had that experience Thursday. Still jet-lagged from the 12-hour time difference from home, Orlando played the second game of a back-to-back and survived, running past an All-Star team from the Chinese League 116-92.
Here's a little secret: While the league is ebullient about sending teams overseas in preseason, the players and especially the coaches don't get nearly as excited about it (with the exception, in this case, being those players with marketing deals in China).
Not only is it an incredibly long trip -- it's about 15 hours from O-town, and charter flights don't get there any faster, folks -- but between the jet lag and all the media events it becomes extremely tough to focus. Almost any coach who has been there will tell you the practices while abroad are uniformly terrible.
Thus, while the Magic are saying all the right things, one presumes it may not please them to be put through such a grind while most of the league's other teams are staying close to home with well-spaced preseason games. But let's look at the silver lining here. The other side of the coin is it may leave the Magic much better prepared for November.
"When we start the season off we're going to be playing a lot of games on the road, we got like six back-to-backs in the first month," said center Dwight Howard, who had a relatively easy 13-minute night after seeing 37 in a regular-season type atmosphere against Cleveland a night earlier in Shanghai. "So we've got to be mentally ready."
This back-to-back was especially rough because of the long journey in the middle, which saw them make the long flight south from Shanghai, clear customs in Macau (a former Portuguese colony which, as a "Special Autonomous Region," effectively operates as a separate country), and not get in until daylight Thursday morning. Howard said between that and the jet lag he didn't get to sleep until 9 a.m., local time.
"Jet lag could have been a problem but coach [Stan Van Gundy] really stressed trying not to let fatigue sit in mentally," said Howard, who added some levity to the postgame proceedings by displaying the ability to say both "hello" and "goodbye" in Chinese.
Howard's right about the rough early-season schedule. Not only do the Magic play six back-to-backs in the season's first 25 days, but 13 of their first 20 games are on the road and 24 of the first 39. The Magic don't play three homes in a row until Feb. 8; on the other hand, they won't cross the Mississippi after Jan. 12.
So despite how unnecessary it seemed (Yao Ming thought the Chinese players shouldn't have been there, and I have a feeling Orlando's players might have felt the same way), maybe this game was a good tune-up after all. Yes, the Chinese team was overmatched athletically, but Orlando still needed to respond in a dangerous game while four rotation players (Rashard Lewis, Tony Battie, Trevor Ariza and Keyon Dooling) wore suits on the sideline.
And while this trip might exact a toll come January when the Magic are slogging through yet another tough Western swing, the glass-half-full approach is to say that it prepares them much better for an equally rough November slate. If it helps them get their game face on earlier than the competition, perhaps the trade-off will be worth it.
Some other notes from Thursday:
• Still no sign of Rashard Lewis in a Magic uniform, and Van Gundy said he only has an "outside chance" of playing Saturday. "He's started to do a little bit more in terms of moving around and we're going to see [Friday]," he offered, but it seems his Orlando debut won't come on foreign soil. Ariza and Dooling won't play until the team returns to Orlando.• Van Gundy offered effusive, unsolicited praise for China's Wang Zhizhi, which given that a) Wang played for Van Gundy in Miami, and b) Orlando has a glaring need for another frontcourt player, certainly raised an eyebrow or too. "I enjoyed seeing Wang Zhizhi again," said Van Gundy, who added that the two exchanged gifts. "He's a very good player and a great, great person. I hope our paths will cross again some time."
I've always maintained that Wang belongs in the league and he was clearly China's best player on the court (16 points, 7 boards in 22 minutes), so this is a match that might work.
• The Chinese prospects failed to make much of an impression. Lakers' second-round pick Sun Yue had a sweet open-court rejection of Keith Bogans and showed some quick ups on a driving dunk in the second half, but he disappeared for stretches and his next move to his right will be his first. Long-term, the best prospect might be 18-year-old point guard Liu Xiaoyu, but he's still a long way away.
• This game was not a sellout, as several empties were visible in the upper end zones, but Saturday's game with LeBron in town sold out. Speaking of LBJ, he made an entrance along with some other Cleveland players early in the first quarter and sat at courtside.
• The league trotted out NBA legends Darryl Dawkins, Rick Barry and George Gervin during a timeout in the first half. OK, this thing with Gervin is getting out of hand. If I'm not mistaken he's been introduced at every NBA event for the past half decade. Maybe longer. He's built an entire second career out of waving to crowds at league events during breaks in the action. What a country. What a world.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.