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Magic prepares for Daly grind

Despite what the calendar reads, in Magicland it feels like late September or early October. Like training camp just started. Like everything still is kind of new and there should be plenty of time to work everything out.

In actuality, it is Halloween, opening day of the 1997-98 NBA season. And, ready or not, the Magic somehow has to pull together its new system and new players and step fearlessly into another season tonight against Atlanta at Orlando Arena.

"We need about two more weeks, but we don't have it," coach Chuck Daly said. "The guys are coming along. I think they've learned a lot of things. It's a little different style and I think they've adapted well and tried to learn. We just need more time, but we're going to have to play (tonight)."

For the second straight year, the Magic opens after undergoing major off-season changes. And it again starts with an ailing Penny Hardaway.

The All-Star guard hasn't practiced since Tuesday because of tendinitis in his right knee _ a condition that afflicted his left knee last year and eventually required surgery. He's listed as questionable.

The Magic, 45-37 and third in the Atlantic Division last season, had plenty to worry about already, what with its new personnel (free agent Bo Outlaw, rookie Johnny Taylor and veterans Mark Price and Derek Harper) and key players changing positions (point guard Hardaway to shooting guard and shooting guard Nick Anderson to small forward).

Of more significance is the team's change in philosophies and commitment to the Daly system. Even after training camp and eight preseason games, it's a work in progress.

"We've just got to get more familiar with (Daly's system). Once we get familiar with everything, we'll be fine," Anderson said. "We're going to struggle sometimes. Maybe not all the time, but we're going to struggle sometimes.

"Some things we're going to do (will) just be unexpected. Some things you'll be like, "Why the hell did you do that?' But in the end, I think everything will be cool."

The Magic is learning a different defensive style, one that involves more presses and traps and emphasizes rebounding.

Daly has designated the club's second unit as the team's defensive specialists, who will have the express purpose of forcing turnovers and pressuring teams into mistakes. That group figures to be anchored by Darrell Armstrong, Price and Gerald Wilkins.

Some of what Daly is doing resembles what he did during his championship years in Detroit in the late '80s. For instance, he has the Magic running the pick-and-roll where one option is having power forward Horace Grant spot up for a short jumper like Pistons center Bill Laimbeer used to do.

Also, Daly has assembled a more veteran team (Harper is 36, Tim Kempton and Price are 33), much as he had in Detroit.

"He's a coach who wants to win now and not really (build) for the future. He's very impatient. He has no patience at all," Hardaway said. "So all these veteran guys coming in here, I'm sure he has a lot to do with it because he definitely thinks that's what you have to have to win."

Offensively, the Magic will employ less structured plays, ones that allow players to freelance. That likely won't include taking three-pointers, which Daly wants to keep to a minimum.

"He just lets you play basketball," Hardaway said. "Nothing is really set, nothing's in stone. If you think you can take your man at any time, then do it. He doesn't care if you break the offense."

Still, offense is where the Magic's deficiencies will be most visible. Scoring has been a problem _ 91 points a game during preseason.

Hardaway and Anderson are the only Magic players who can readily create their shots. And Anderson hasn't been shooting well lately, leaving the bulk of the scoring to Hardaway, who often has to beat double teams.

To let Daly tell it, nothing will come easy _ not points and not securing a spot in the playoffs. The prevailing belief is that Orlando will jockey with Indiana for the eighth and final spot.

"We're not going to outscore people. It's going to be a fistfight every night to get one more point than the other team," Daly said. "Every night is going to be a fistfight. Trust me. Trust me."

NOTE: The Magic placed rookie Jason Lawson (groin), Kempton (back) and Taylor (right shoulder) on injured reserve to reach the league roster limit of 12.