Game time: 7:00pm
The Hornets take on the Orlando Magic tonight in their preseason home opener. Fans who attend will get to see the Hornets shiny new court, while those who don't will have to wait since it appears the game won't be televised in any capacity.
The Magic are entering Year Three of a rebuilding project following Dwight Howard's departure. They finished 23-59 last season, but a number of exciting young prospects are giving Magic fans reason to believe things are headed in the right direction.
They drafted Victor Oladipo last year as the number two overall pick, and the guard from Indiana produced solid rookie numbers, averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game. There is still debate as to whether he is a point guard or a shooting guard, but nonetheless Oladipo showed plenty of promise. Other young players Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris showed promise last season as well.
The team lost a number of key veterans in the offseason, including leading scorer Arron Afflalo in a trade to Denver, big man Glen Davis, and long-time point guard Jameer Nelson. Orlando received shooting guard Evan Fournier, who was one of the more consistent performers for France this summer in the FIBA World Cup. The Magic also signed Channing Frye to a four-year, $32 million contract. Frye had a strong season with Phoenix last year, and should provide plenty of outside scoring as a stretch-four.
The Magic drafted Aaron Gordon number four overall and traded for point guard Elfred Payton in this year's draft. Both have plenty of potential but are also incredibly raw, particularly Gordon. Still, the likes of Gordon and Payton, along with the other young prospects, should make Orlando fun to watch at times.
The team is coached by Jacque Vaughn, who is entering his third season with the team. While he's been given a free past for the most part to this point given the team's rebuilding status, pressure will be on him early this year to produce a more competitive team. While the playoffs may still be out of reach, the Magic cannot show signs of regression this season.
For the Hornets, this is their third preseason game following Friday's win against the Wizards in Greensboro. Lance Stephenson missed the game with a cut on his toe, but he practiced yesterday and should participate fully tonight. Gaining continuity with the rest of the team is key for Stephenson, who looked out of synch with the rest of the team against Philadelphia last week.
Matchups to Watch
Tobias Harris vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Harris has been one of the Magic's strongest performers in preseason. Like MKG, Harris uses his athleticism to his advantage on both ends of the court. With MKG's stellar defense, it will be interesting to see if he can quiet Harris down.
Kemba Walker vs. Elfred Payton
Luke Ridnour has started both preseason games so far, but Payton has been playing plenty of minutes off the bench. Payton and Walker are almost complete opposites -- Payton is a big guard at 6'3 known for his defense, while Walker is below six-feet and is dynamic on offense. Seeing these two matched up should be fun.
Kyle O'Quinn vs. Cody Zeller:
O'Quinn isn't exactly the most skilled big man, but he is a relentless worker in the post who uses his strength well. Zeller, who was banged around a lot last season due to a lack of strength, will certainly be tested by O'Quinn.
Notes: Victor Oladipo and Channing Frye, who have missed both preseason games with injuries, are likely out tonight.