It’s game day Magic Fans & we are in Houston, Texas to take on the Rockets in the 3 matchup of a 4 game road trip. This is the second & final time that we take on the Rockets this season. For us in the U.K. this is a two week period where the tip times are a little more friendly. The USA had their “Spring Forward” on the clocks over night so until we start British Summer Time on March 29th the time difference sees us only 4 hours ahead. The game therefore has much friendlier U.K. tip time of 11pm. It will as always be available live & on demand via the NBA League Pass.
We are now deep into the business end of the season.
A look at the playoff picture sees minimal change in the standings but some significant results.
The Eastern Conference
We are still in the 8th seed position with 19 games to play between now & the end of the regular season on April 15th. Our record is at 28 & 35 after beating the Timberwolves in our last outing & ending a three game losing streak.
The Nets are 7th with a record of 28 & 34, still having played a game less than ourselves. We remain 5 wins ahead of the Washington Wizards who are in 9th, having played a game less than ourselves with a 23 & 39 record. The Charlotte Hornets (22 & 41) at 10th are 6 wins behind us having played the same number of games as ourselves. They kept themselves in the race by beating the Houston Rockets last night in Charlotte! The Chicago Bulls (21 & 42) are sat 11th & after defeat again on Friday night have dropped further out of contention for the postseason, now being 7 wins adrift with the same games played as ourselves. We hold the tiebreaker over all four teams; the Nets (2-0), the Wizards (4 & 0), the Hornets (2-0) & the Bulls (1-0).
The Bucks (53 & 10) & Toronto Raptors (44-18) have assured themselves of postseason qualification, being the 1st & 2nd seeds at this point. The Boston Celtics (42-20) remain 3rd but are still seeking that higher seeding.
Tonight sees a full slate of games in the race for 7th & 8th. The Nets are at home game against the Bulls & Washington are at home to the Heat. Charlotte play tomorrow night in Atlanta. We are not guaranteed qualification to the postseason yet, we have work to do but do look in a strong position for a second season running of making the first round.
As games left reduce & the gap stays at sizeable one between us & those below it is becoming ever more a straight battle with the Nets for seeding. We face them 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!
And so to tonight’s game in Houston.
As our road record remains poor, being 12 wins & 20 losses it needs improvement & being honest it is not something many of us expect to see bettered tonight; that is not to write us off! Our home form is a little better, currently at 16 & 15 which is also far from impressive. Across our last 10 games we have a 6 & 4 record.
During our last outing in Minneapolis as we took the W we hit all of our significant markers for games where we win. The Magic are 15-10 when they lead after the the first quarter & we led. As a team we need to get off to a good start in games as we are 11-23 when we end the first quarter trailing. That is the responsibility of our starting unit & they have to step up to the challenge. We are now 23 & 2 when we lead or are level entering the 4th quarter. We are 19 & 2 when we score at least 110 points, hit 115+ points & we have won all 15 games. Where we have scored 120 or more & its wins in all 10 games.
Offence & Defence
In the NBA offensive rankings we improved to 24th with both our rating improved at 107.6 & average scoring 105.8 points per game (now the 28th worst record in the NBA for ppg).
Our defensive ranking remains 9th, but our rating worsened again to 109 whilst allowing 107.2 points per game. The opponents points per game conceded is again showing our defensive struggles, which up until very recently was the best in the NBA & has now slipped further to the 5th best record. The last two occasions we held an opponent to 100 points or less both came against Charlotte on February 4th (100 points) & January 20th (83 points).
Magic Lineup & Injury Report
Looking to the injury report Evan Fournier (18.8 ppg) (elbow) is confirmed as being out again for tonight. Both Jonathan Isaac (12 ppg) (severe left knee strain & bone contusion) & Al-Farouq Aminu (4.3 ppg) (torn meniscus) remain out for the rest of the season.
Our starting lineup will therefore likely be Nikola Vucevic (19.6 ppg), Markelle Fultz (11.9 ppg), Aaron Gordon (14.4 ppg) & James Ennis (6 ppg) joined by Wes Iwundu (5.1 ppg) again.
From the bench we will likely use DJ Augustin (10 ppg), Michael Carter-Williams (6.7 ppg), Terence Ross (14.6 ppg) & Mo Bamba (5.6 ppg), therefore Khem Birch (3.9 ppg) & Gary Clark (3.4 ppg) may not feature. We can if needed also call on BJ Johnson (1.6 ppg), Vic Law (0 ppg) & Melvin Frazier Jr (1.2 ppg) from the Lakeland Magic though they have not travelled. The Orlando Magic PR had not tweeted out what we wear tonight as I write this.
Taking a look at our opponents & we see the Rockets come into the game as the 5th place team in the West with a 39 & 23 record. Their last outing was at Charlotte last night where they lost by 99-108 surprisingly. They have lost their last 3 games, are 6 & 4 across their last 10 games & have a 21-9 home record.
The Rockets rank 2nd offensively in the NBA with a rating of 113.9, whilst scoring an average of 118.3 points per game. Defensively their rating of 110 whilst allowing opponents an average of 114.2 points per game gives them the 15th defensive ranking in the NBA.
They are led by James Harden (34.5 ppg) & Russell Westbrook (27.5 ppg), each are individually brilliant & together they are proving to be a force to be reckoned with. They are surrounded by some good players & have only one injury doubt for tonight being Eric Gordon (14.5 ppg) (knee). Likely to start along with Harden & Westbrook is Robert Covington (13 ppg), PJ Tucker (7.2 ppg) & Danuel House Jr (10.4 ppg). From the bench they can bring Ben McLemore (9.9 ppg), Austin Rivers (8.5 ppg), Jeff Green (8.3 ppg), DeMarre Carroll (3.2 ppg), Bruno Caboclo (2.6 ppg), Tyson Chandler (1.3 ppg), Thabo Sefolosha (2.3 ppg) & Chris Clemons (5 ppg) amongst others.
We met this season on game day 25 (December 13th) in the Amway, losing 130-107. Last season we drew the series 1-1, winning famously on the second night of a back-to-back in the Amway. The head-to-head record in the 62 regular season games played sees the Rockets leading 28-34. We have only won 3 of the last 15 matchups. In the playoffs Houston are 4-0 up from our 1995 finals meeting.
Keys To The Game
Tonight requires our defence to be at its best. We have to try to contain their offence which is a task very few teams manage. They are the team who shoot the highest percentage of 3’s in the NBA but they are more than capable of scoring from rebounds & drives into the paint. Their defence is not the best in the league by any measure so we should be able to score the ball.
We need to see ball movement again & that comes from having Markelle on the court & with the ball in his hands. That movement has got us good shots drop. Continuing to recognise who has the “hot hand” at any time & feed them opportunities is a must. We need a good first quarter & ideally want to go into the 4th quarter level or with a lead at which point we can feel hopeful. With Houston being on the second night of a back-to-back & having travelled overnight this may be a good time to play them.
WE BELIEVE IN OUR TEAM!
LET’S GO MAGIC