By Josh Robbins, Orlando Sentinel
12:34 AM EDT, October 15, 2013
DALLAS — Monday night for the Orlando Magic began with a look at the franchise's future. By sending out Victor Oladipo, Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris, Kyle O'Quinn and Nik Vucevic for the opening tipoff, the Magic's starting five against the Dallas Mavericks ranged in age from 20 to 23 years old.
Soon, however, the preseason matchup became as much about the present as the future.
Resting veterans Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price allowed coach Jacque Vaughn to open some playing time for the Magic's veteran roster invitees: Solomon Jones, Mickell Gladness, Kris Joseph and Manny Harris.
Jones and Gladness helped their cases for a regular-season roster spot as a backup big man — and helped the Magic beat the Mavericks 102-94 at American Airlines Center.
“I think they both did some really good things,” Vaughn said. “Mickell protected the rim for us, protected his teammates when the ball got into the paint. Solomon was just really solid for us: in the right place on defense, great energy.”
In 25 minutes, Jones scored 11 points and gathered eight rebounds.
In 16 minutes, Gladness blocked six shots.
At most, the Magic will have two roster spots available — and they’ll have two spots only if they waive Hedo Turkoglu before the season begins.
If Turkoglu remains on the roster beyond the season-opener, the Magic almost certainly will have just one available roster spot. Jones, Gladness, Joseph, Manny Harris and rookie Romero Osby are the contenders.
“Obviously, I’m in a battle for a roster spot from Day One,” said Gladness, a 6-foot-11 center. “I don’t like to make it a personal battle, but I make it a battle between myself and what I can do.”
Jones, a 6-foot-10 center and power forward who grew up in the distant Orlando suburb of Mount Dora, made the most of his opportunity Monday.
He helped spark a fast start for the Magic, who jumped out to a 30-10 lead and outscored the Mavericks by 15 points in the first quarter when Jones was on the court.
Jones swished a pair of 16-foot jumpers and made an emphatic dunk after he cut through the lane and caught a pass from Vucevic.
In the second quarter, Harkless missed a 3-pointer, but Jones sprinted through the wide-open lane, caught the ball above the rim and dunked it to put Orlando ahead 48-44.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Jones said. “I’ve just got to try to go out there and just bring energy. It felt good. We got a ‘W.’ I can’t just rely on one game. I’ve got to do this every game. It’s something I’ve got to continue doing.”
On a night that began with a youth-movement theme, Jones was the Magic's most experienced player.
He has played in parts of seven NBA seasons for five teams. He's appeared in 270 regular-season games.
Oladipo, the second overall pick in June's draft, hasn't played in any regular-season games yet. On Monday, though, he received his first preseason start, and he finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals.
But he also turned the ball over five times.
Magic officials expect him to endure some growing pains along the way, but they love his activity level, his toughness and his potential as a perimeter defender.
“Every game, every minute, every arena that I’m in, I try to just get comfortable and play at a proper speed,” Oladipo said. “I’m just trying to learn from every game and every moment.”
Oladipo and the Magic (1-2) faced an injury-depleted Mavericks (1-2) backcourt that started rookie Gal Mekel at point guard and Monta Ellis at shooting guard.
Making his third start of the preseason at power forward, O'Quinn struggled early but steadied himself a bit as the game went on. He scored two points on 1-of-6 shooting and collected six rebounds.
Tobias Harris, who scored 12 points, continued to play on the wing instead of at power forward, where he spent much of his time with Orlando last season. It's unclear whether Vaughn is giving serious consideration to bringing Harris off the bench once the regular season begins.
"I haven't settled on lineups, and I haven't even discussed that with him," Vaughn said.
"Pretty much we've just been putting him out on the floor in a position to see where his game is at right now and how he can help us. We'll always take the approach of what is best for the team. The great thing is he provides scoring whether he's starting or coming off the bench and provides us a person we can count on every single night."
Harkless finished with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
A generously announced crowd of 17,136 saw fan favorite Dirk Nowitzki score 24 points.
The Magic need help protecting the rim, and Jones, 29, and Gladness, 27, might provide that.
“Today just happened to be my game where I was changing multiple shots, even if I didn’t block them,” Gladness said. “Like a coach a long time ago always told me, ‘If it’s going to the rim, you should be going after it.’ ”
With perhaps only one roster spot available, every preseason exhibition matters to Jones and Gladness.
Only five games remain.
Time is running out for both of them to make an impression.
What they did Monday should help.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.
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