CHARLOTTE HORNETS VS. ORLANDO MAGIC PREVIEW
TIME WARNER CABLE ARENA, CHARLOTTE, N.C. 7:00 P.M.
The Charlotte Hornets (1-1) make their first home appearance of the preseason on Monday night as they face off against the Orlando Magic (2-0) in a southeast division preview. Charlotte won their last outing on Friday when they beat the Washington Wizards in convincing fashion. The Hornets led from the beginning in that contest and never relinquished the lead on their way to a 99-86 victory in Greenville, S.C.
One of the matchups to watch in this one will be at the center position, where the Hornets’ Al Jefferson will go up against Nikola Vucevic for the Magic. Jefferson has had a solid preseason so far, averaging 11.5 points and nine rebounds per game so far. Big Al is coming off a monster second half of the season last year, as he averaged 24.5 ppg and 11.4 rpg after the All-Star break. Expect more of the same this season as Jefferson enters his second year with the team and is showing no signs of the plantar fasciitis that slowed him in last seasons first round playoff exit. Vucevic, a young and underrated post player coming off an Achilles injury, has also had a good start to the exhibition season, averaging 14 points and six rebounds per game. Both players occupy a lot of space under the basket and this will surely be a matchup to keep an eye on as they both get plenty of touches in their teams’ offensive systems.
Another matchup to keep an eye on is the one between Kemba Walker and rookie point guard Elfird Payton. Walker has played well over the first two games of the preseason, averaging 13 points and 4.5 assists per contest. He is looking to build off a career year last season, one that saw him take his game to another level in the playoffs. The addition of his new backcourt mate Lance Stephenson should only help that cause, giving him someone to share ball handling duties with and enabling him to play off the ball more often. Payton was drafted with the 10th pick of the first round in this years draft to pair with Victor Oladipo, the athletic second year guard for the Magic. Together, they form an ultra athletically talented backcourt of the future for the Magic. Payton was impressive in the summer league and has looked great so far in his first two games, scoring eight points to go with five rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal in his teams last outing.
Gary Neal has led the Hornets in scoring this preseason, scoring 16.5 points per outing and shooting an efficient 67% from beyond the arc. Together with rookie guard P.J. Hairston and third string point guard Jannero Pargo, the team has shot well from outside, an encouraging sign for one of the worst three point shooting teams in the league. The Hornets showed up on defense last Friday, after mailing it in during their first exhibition game, and the offense also came to life as the ball moved well as all the starters racked up at least three assists a piece. This is no doubt an exciting game for the team, as this will be their first game in front of their home fans as the Charlotte Hornets.
Stephenson is back in the lineup after sitting out the Hornets last game with a toe injury. Oladipo is expected to miss his third straight game of the preseason as he recovers from a right MCL sprain; Evan Fournier will start in his place.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
PG Walker Payton
SG Stephenson Oladipo
SF Kidd-Gilchrist Harkless
PF Williams Harris
C Jefferson Vucevic
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Photo credit: (NBAE/Getty Images)