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Magic vs. Blazers Preview: Orlando must slow Portland’s high-powered offense

NBA: Orlando Magic at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

After an encouraging two-game Northeast trip where they defeated one of the East’s top teams and nearly upset another, the Magic return home.

There waiting for them? The high-powered Portland Trailblazers.

The Blazers, having scored over 120 in each of their first three games, boast an early season offensive rating of 110.8 points per 100 possessions and the league’s eighth fastest pace at 107.3 possessions per. Now it’s up to the Magic, who held the Celtics to 90 points on Monday and currently have the 11th best defensive rating at 104.7 in a ridiculously high-scoring league, to slow them down.

Doing so obviously starts with the backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCullom, both of whom are putting up big numbers but struggling somewhat with their perimeter shooting. Lillard, averaging 28.7 points and 7.0 assists per game, is connecting on just 30.4 percent of his three-point attempts, and McCullom, averaging 19.3 points, is shooting just 35.1 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three.

McCullom is coming off a horrid shooting performance where he went just 5-for-25 from the field, including 1 of 9 from three, in the Blazers’ 125-124 loss to the Wizards. Nik Stauskas has helped pick up the slack, averaging 14.0 points per game and hitting 52.9 percent of his threes.

If the Magic closeout on the Blazers perimeter shooters with the same aggression they did against the Celtics on Monday, it will help keep those three-point shooting percentages down.

Offensively, Orlando must continue to move the ball as they did in Boston, when Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin each recorded 10 assists and the Magic had an assist rate of 73.7 percent. In fact, the Magic are on a two-game streak of players setting career-highs in assists (Fournier on Monday and Nikola Vucevic with 12 assists on Saturday). So maybe Aaron Gordon drops a personal best 10 dimes against the Blazers.

Vucevic, fresh off his 28th birthday, looks to continue his stellar play (18.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists) as he goes head-to-head with fellow double-double machine Jusuf Nurkic (16.7 points, 11.7 rebounds).

For the Magic, its crucial that they build on their impressive victory over the Celtics. Remember what happened last year when they had a shocking win in Boston? The Magic returned home and got blown out by the lowly Kings.

Orlando, after the loss to the Hornets last week, showed the ability to rebound from a disheartening defeat. Now the Magic must show that they can generate momentum from an uplifting win.

The Blazers, who won both games against the Magic last season, will bring some familiar faces to town, as our Aaron Goldstone brought up in his Q&A with Ryne Buchanan of Blazer’s Edge for a Q&A previewing Thursday’s Magic/Blazers game. That includes Mo Harkless, who played for the Magic for three seasons, and Anfernee Simons, an Orlando native who the Blazers selected with the 24th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Simons just had his jersey retired at Edgewater High School.