Our Orlando Magic are in the Amway tonight, we have this one home fixture against the Portland Trailblazers before we hit the road again. The game has a U.K. tip time of 12:00am midnight. It will as always be available live & on demand via the NBA League Pass.
For the present I am going to start our game previews by taking a look each time at the playoff picture & our current position.
We remain in the 7th seed position & we are increasing looking good for a second season running of making the first round. We have 22 games to play between now & the end of the regular season on April 15th. With wins in 5 of our last 7 games our record is hugely improved but still not where we hoped it would be or feel it should be, presently standing at 27 & 33.
The Nets have now lost their last 4 games & have a 26 & 33 record, still having played a game less than ourselves. We are 5 wins ahead of the Washington Wizards in 9th, who have played 1 game less than ourselves with a 22 & 37 record. The Charlotte Hornets (21 & 39) & Chicago Bulls (20 & 40) are sat at 10th & 11th. We do hold the tiebreaker over all four teams; the Nets (2-0), the Wizards (4 & 0), the Hornets (2-0) & the Bulls (1-0).
If we finish in the 7th seed spot again it could set up a repeat of last season’s first round matchup against the Toronto Raptors (42-18) but the Boston Celtics (41-18) are fighting hard for that position. The Bucks (52 & lead the East easily, having already assured themselves of postseason qualification & are looking strong to win the East & await the 8th seed.
The Race For 7th & 8th
In the race for 7th & 8th the Bulls are at home to face the Dallas Mavericks tonight, then tomorrow night Brooklyn travel to Boston, Charlotte are at home & face the Spurs, whilst Washington travel to Sacramento. I feel any hope of taking 6th is incredibly remote with Indiana & Philadelphia being 9 & 10 wins ahead of us.
We are increasingly in a battle with the Nets who we face twice more by the season end, being at Brooklyn on March 23rd & home on March 27th when Orlando Magic UK’s Mikey & Geraint will be in the Amway!
Now to turn to tonight’s game & we’ll start by looking at the good guys, the Orlando Magic!
We came away from San Antonio having taken a disappointing & agonising L after Evan Fournier missed a clutch layup in the final seconds. For all those criticisms I hope you have seen the NBA have confirmed that Evan’s shot was affected by a foul from behind by Patty Mills & we should have been awarded 2 free throws.
Free throws are proving to be an issue to our scoring as we have left too many points at the line recently. Our ball movement of late has been good & has brought about good shooting opportunities & has seen our assist stats growing.
Our home form is currently at 16 & 14, which as with the road record still needs improvement, the road record being 11 wins & 18 losses. Across our last 10 games we have a 5 & 5 record but even in defeat it feels like there is a momentum building around the team.
It is clear that as a team we need to get off to a better start than of late. We have seen the second unit dragging us back into games & it is something we can’t keep doing. The Magic are 14 & 10 when they lead after the first quarter, 11 & 21 when trailing. We’ve been out scored by an average of 6.4 points per 100 possessions in the opening period, which is the 5th worst in the league! We are now 22 & 2 when we lead or are level entering the 4th quarter. We are also 18 & 1 when we score at least 110 points, hit 115+ points & we have won all 14 games, 120 or more & its 9 games.
Offence & Defence
Looking at the NBA offensive rankings we stayed 25th with both our total rating improving to 107 & our average scoring to 105.3 points per game (now the 28th worst record in the NBA for ppg). Our defensive ranking remains constant at 8th rating 108.3 whilst allowing 106.5 points per game (the 2nd best record for opponents ppg in the NBA).
The Magic Injury Report & Starters
Our injury report is slightly changed as Aaron Gordon (14.4 ppg) (knee) is questionable & a game time decision. Both Jonathan Isaac (12 ppg) (severe left knee strain & bone contusion) & Al-Farouq Aminu (4.3 ppg) (torn meniscus) being out for the rest of the season.
JI is travelling with the team, supporting them from the bench & has been involved by the coaching team by doing video scouting reports on our opposition. He’s also in light training & putting shots up.
Barring any late issues with AG expect Coach Clifford to retain our starting lineup of Evan Fournier (19 ppg), Nikola Vucevic (19.1 ppg), Markelle Fultz (11.8 ppg), Aaron Gordon (14.4 ppg) & James Ennis (6.1 ppg).
From the bench we have tightened the rotations down to a 9 man one, using DJ Augustin (10.3 ppg), Michael Carter-Williams (6.3 ppg), Terence Ross (14.1 ppg) & Mo Bamba (5.6 ppg) with Wes Iwundu (5.1 ppg), Khem Birch (4 ppg) & Gary Clark (3.5 ppg) getting squeezed out. We can also call on BJ Johnson (1.6 ppg), Vic Law (0 ppg) & Melvin Frazier Jr (1.3 ppg) from Lakeland.
The Orlando Magic PR have tweeted out that we wear the white Association uniform tonight.
To our opponents now, Portland come into the game as the 12th place team in the West, with a 26 & 35 record & have lost their last 3 games. On their home court they have won 16 of the 29 games they’ve played this season but on the road they are poor having won only 12 of 29 played. Their last outing was a road loss in Atlanta 117-129.
Portland rank 11th offensively in the NBA with a rating of 111.7, whilst scoring an average of 113 points per game. Defensively their rating of 114, whilst allowing opponents an average of 115.4 points per game gives them the 27th defensive ranking in the NBA. The Trailblazers have some very good players & are a team that are underachieving at this time in a stacked West, being surprisingly out of the playoff positions at this time but they are still in contention. They have only won 3 of their last 10 games.
In Damian Lillard (29.5 ppg) & CJ McCollum (22.2 ppg) they have one of my favourite backcourt partnerships but Lillard (groin) is out & has not travelled with the team. The injury list also includes Josef Nurkic (leg fracture), Rodney Hood (11 ppg) (torn Achilles) & Zach Collins (dislocated shoulder) all of whom are out. Anfernee Simons (9 ppg) (ankle) is day-to-day. Their last starting rotation was CJ McCollum (22.2 ppg), Trevor Ariza (7.4 ppg), Hassan Whiteside (16 ppg), Gary Trent Jr (7.4 ppg) & Carmelo Anthony (15.4 ppg). The guys off the bench include Wenyen Gabriel (1.9 ppg), Anfernee Simons (9 ppg), Nassir Little (3.6 ppg), Caleb Swanigan (2.8 ppg) & our former prospect Mario Hezonja (4.4 ppg).
When we met last on December 20th on game day 29 we lost 103-118. We lost both of the matchups last season & have lost each of the last 6 meetings. The head-to-head record sees the Magic behind by 25-35 in the 60 regular season games played.
Keys To The Game
Tonight is a huge chance for us to break this long losing streak against Portland. Losing Lillard is a huge bonus for the Magic & allows us to focus our defence elsewhere. A win would build on our form before we hit the road again. We need to keep the momentum going. There are no easy games in the NBA & that is certainly true of playing Portland regardless of their present injury issues. Containing their multiple threats will not be easy.
However if we want to build on our position we have to take wins against the sub 500 teams, even if it is a surprise that that team are in said bracket. Our defence needs to be better than of late. As already highlighted we need to improve our opening quarter & we ideally want to go into the 4th quarter level or with a lead at which point we can feel hopeful, as from that position we are 22 & 2 this season. We want to see the ball movement again which is getting us good looks. Continuing to recognise who has the “hot hand” at any time & feed them opportunities must continue.
Remember we are 18 & 1 when we score at least 110 points, hit 115+ points & we have won all 14 games, 120 or more & its 9 games.
WE BELIEVE IN OUR TEAM!
LET’S GO MAGIC