Orlando Magic vs Brooklyn Nets! This is it Magic fans, seeding game 1 & it is potentially huge! Orlando Magic basketball returns properly tonight.
The game has a U.K. tip time of 7:30pm. It will as always be available live & on demand via the NBA League Pass. This game is also being broadcast here in the UK on Sky Sports Arena.
In this week’s episode of Penny For Your Thoughts we spoke at length about this game, along with the positives & negatives of the Magic restart. You can watch that here if you have missed it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWnmVDs6HV4&t=3s
This fixture will be the first of 2 meetings with the Nets in the 8 seeding games we will play. This is the team we are battling for the 7th seed in the East & leads us nicely to take a look at our playoff picture.
THE BATTLE FOR 7TH & 8TH
We sit in the 8th seed position firmly in the chase for qualification for the post season for the second season running. An appearance is not yet guaranteed but we remain in a strong position. Our record of 30 & 35 is far from impressive.
We are 6 wins ahead of the 9th placed Washington Wizards, who have played 1 game less than ourselves with a 24 & 40 record. That makes them 5.5 games behind us.
We are looking to leapfrog Brooklyn for the 7th seeding position. The Nets have a 30 & 34 record, meaning we trail by virtue of having played a game less than us. We do hold the tiebreaker over the Nets (2-0) & do so over the Wizards having swept them 4 & 0.
You may be asking why the tiebreaker & the gap of 0.5 with Brooklyn & 5.5 with the Wizards is so important. To explain & apologies if this is wordy but I have simplified the explanation directly from the NBA website. So, here goes:
All returning teams current standings & record remain. Each team is to play 8 games for seeding, the games having been selected from its remaining regular-season matchups. At the conclusion of those games, the top 7 teams in each conference will automatically qualify for the playoffs. This is to be based on the best combined record across the regular-season games & seeding games. Should the teams in 7th & 8th have identical records then traditional tiebreaking methods will be used to determine position.
If the team in the 8th seed spot in its conference is more than 4 games ahead of the team 9th in the same conference, then the team in 8th earn that playoff seeding.
However, the format has changed if the gap is 4 games or fewer between 8th & 9th in each conference. If the team with the 8th best combined record in its conference (Team A) is 4 games or fewer ahead of the team with the 9th best combined record in the same conference (Team B.), then Teams A and B would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the 8th playoff seed. To earn the 8th playoff seed, Team A would need to defeat Team B once and Team B would need to defeat Team A twice.
The 2019-20 season concludes with a traditional playoff format with a best of seven series in the first round, conference semifinals, conference finals and the NBA Finals.
During the 3 scrimmage games both the Nets & Magic went 1 & 2. We had played the top 3 teams in the West & held our own fairly well in albeit meaningless scrimmage games. The Nets lost heavily to the Pelicans, beat the Spurs by 5 points before falling to the Jazz in their final scrimmage game. Form is hard to judge, particularly for the Nets, but more of that later.
Prior to the hiatus in our last 10 games we had a 6 & 4 record, winning 3 on the bounce. In the NBA offensive rankings we had seen our position improving as the team had found their shot. We are sat at 24th on the season, our rating of 108 remaining constant, whilst our average scoring was 106.4 points per game (27th in the NBA for ppg).
Our defensive ranking was dropping back, being 9th at 109, whilst still allowing only 107.3 points per game (4th for opponents ppg in the NBA).
MAGIC INJURY REPORT & STARTERS
The injury report is much different from last time I wrote in this detail. Al-Farouq Aminu (4.3 ppg) (torn meniscus) did not travel to the restart in Walt Disney World being out for the season. In our final scrimmage game on Monday night against Denver both Aaron Gordon (groin) & Wes Iwundu (concussion protocol) sat out.
That game also saw Jonathan Isaac had returned to playing for the first time since January 1st after a severe left knee strain & bone contusion. His impact was instant & telling. Markelle Fultz made his restart also after having arrived late in the bubble.
Therefore our starting lineup is somewhat difficult to predict. We could potentially go with Evan Fournier (18.8 ppg), Nikola Vucevic (19.5 ppg), Markelle Fultz (12.1 ppg), Aaron Gordon (14.4 ppg) & Jonathan Isaac (12 ppg). Just as easily we could see Fournier, Vucevic & Gordon being joined by James Ennis (6 ppg) & DJ Augustin (10.4 ppg) again. From the bench we also have Michael Carter-Williams (7.2 ppg), Terence Ross (14.8 ppg), Mo Bamba (5.5 ppg), Wes Iwundu (5.3 ppg), Khem Birch (3.8 ppg) & Gary Clark (3.2 ppg), BJ Johnson (1.6 ppg), Vic Law (0 ppg) & Melvin Frazier Jr (1.2 ppg).
OUR OPPONENTS – THE BROOKLYN NETS
As we take a look at our opponents they come into the game as already mentioned as the 7th placed team in the East, with a 30 & 34 record. Prior to the hiatus they had a 5 & 5 record across their last 10 games, having won 3 consecutively.
Brooklyn rank slightly above us in offensive rankings at 23rd in the NBA with a rating of 108.1, whilst scoring an average of 110.8 points per game. Defensively their rating of 108.7, whilst allowing opponents an average of 111.4 points per game put them in the 8th place for defensive ranking.
That was how tightly these two teams were matched prior to the hiatus but COVID changed all that & the Nets come into tonight having been decimated by the break.
Brooklyn already had Kevin Durant (achilles) out for the season. Unfortunately for them Kyrie Irving (27.4 ppg) ruled himself out for the return after having shoulder surgery. It is worth noting that the Nets had a better record without Kyrie (18-17) than with him (8-12) on the season prior to the hiatus.
They then lost Spencer Dinwiddie (20.6 ppg), Taurean Prince (12.1 ppg), DeAndre Jordan (8.3 ppg) & Wilson Chandler (5.9 ppg) to COVID & choice to not play in the Orlando bubble.
A replacement signing of free agent Jamal Crawford has not had any impact yet as he is listed as being day-to-day, missing all 3 scrimmage games.
Therefore they are relying heavily on Caris LeVert (17.7 ppg), Jarrett Allen (10.6 ppg) & Joe Harris (13.9 ppg), along with replacement signing Tyler Johnson (5.7 ppg). Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (6.3 ppg) & Chris Chiozza (4 ppg) were starters along with LeVert, Harris & Allen in the final scrimmage game.
From the bench they can use Garrett Temple (10.3 ppg) & Rodions Kurucs (4.2 ppg) amongst a whole host of new arrivals.
COULD THE NETS MISS THE PLAYOFFS?
There is a 6 game difference between the Nets in 7th & the Wizards in 9th. That would seem an impossible gap to bridge for the Wizards who need to make up effectively 3 games. With the Nets playing the Magic twice, whilst also facing the Bucks, Celtics, Clippers, Kings, Portland & the Wizards in their 8 game schedule there are no guaranteed wins.
A team trying to find chemistry with a new lineup & new coach could be vulnerable. The chance of missing out is probably remote but remains a real one.
The Wizards play Phoenix, Brooklyn, Indiana, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Oklahoma, Milwaukee & Boston. That is far from an easy schedule. The contest could be interesting if Washington hit the ground running. Washington lost all three scrimmage games having faced Denver, the Clippers & Lakers. Washington also have star players missing in John Wall, Bradley Beal & Davis Bertans.
We had played the Nets twice this season. In the Amway on January 6th, Orlando won by 89-101. Then on February 24th the Magic won in a brilliant comeback win 115-113 on the road. This was our take on that game: https://orlandomagicuk.com/blog/the-magic-take-down-the-nets-in-a-brilliant-second-half-comeback-win/
Across the 115 regular season games played the Magic lead 65-50, with us having taken the last 3 W’s. Since season 2015-16, in the 16 games played Orlando have 10 wins. Last season we lost the series 1-2. The teams have never met in the playoffs.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Tonight is a game to make a statement to a team we are locked in a battle with for seeding. We have continuity & familiarity in our favour. The boost of JI returning should continue into this game as our rotations settle down to a more regular balance. Coach Clifford has already said of this that he expects to use a rotation of 10 to 11 players for a time yet as players continue to find their fitness & rhythm.
Containing Allen, Harris, Johnson & LeVert is key to our chances. As already highlighted Brooklyn have effectively only been a unit since entering the Orlando NBA bubble. They will still be working on understanding a new squad, a new coach, their positioning, plays & individual strengths. Welcome to a very steep & harsh learning curve!
From our own perspective we must have a plan B if the 3 ball isn’t falling. We have to recognise who on the night has the “hot hand” then give them opportunities, creating good looks by moving the ball. It would be good to see Orlando regain that defensive intensity & resilience shown up until the All-Star break.
Unlike many teams Orlando are not able to approach the seeding games as further practice. We still have to qualify so need to bring out our strengths quickly in order to take the needed W’s.
THE INTERESTING NUMBERS
The Magic are 16-10 when they lead after the first quarter, 11-23 when they trail.
Orlando are 24-2 when leading going into the 4th quarter.
When the Magic score 110 points or more they are 20-2. Hit 115 points or more & they won all 16 games. When scoring at least 120 points the Magic won all 11 games on the 2019-20 season.
Against teams over .500 Orlando have a 5-26 record, which tells you exactly where our struggle for wins has been this season. Of the 8 seeding games to be played 4 are against sub .500 teams, being the Brooklyn Nets (x2), Sacramento Kings & New Orleans Pelicans.
WE BELIEVE IN OUR TEAM! LET’S GO MAGIC!