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Magic vs. Kings Preview: Orlando must be strong “out of the gate” early

The Magic are back home Tuesday night against an upstart Sacramento team that loves to run.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Two teams will square off Tuesday night inside the Amway Center with very different circumstances surrounding them.

The Kings, winners of three in a row (and four of their last five), will be looking to keep things rolling against the Magic on the second night of a back-to-back. The Kings scored 72 points against the Heat in the second half as they pulled away towards a 123-113 victory in Miami Monday night.

Four players scored 19 or more points for the Kings last night. They were led by Willie Cauley-Stein, who scored 26 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. Sacramento’s starting back-court, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, combined to score 43 points in the contest.

The Kings (4-3) are above .500 (at any point in the season) for the first time since October 29th, 2016.

On the other hand, the Magic will be looking to just get something started. Their season has been pretty up-and-down; a couple close wins (including an impressive road victory over the Boston Celtics) coupled with three double-digits losses (out of four total losses).

In Saturday’s 113-91 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Magic shot 32.7% from the field (33 of 101) while only scoring 40 points in the second half.

Orlando was led by Nikola Vucevic, who scored 16 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in 21 minutes. The rest of Orlando’s four starters combined to go 11 for 42 (26%) from the field.

Coach Clifford's team is not quite in desperation mode just yet, it’s still very early in the season. But Magic fans know all too well how quickly things can go south.

The good guys need a win at home Tuesday night, although it won’t be easy considering how hot Sacramento has been shooting the basketball.

Four Kings players in their regular rotation are shooting 46% or better on three-point attempts (Frank Mason III, Hield, Nemanja Bjelica, and Iman Shumpert) this season.

Here are some things that I will be watching closely Tuesday night...

Three keys to the game:

1) Pace of play

The Magic have not shown a propensity to play up-tempo so far this season (Pace: 99.5, 23rd in the league). When you’re not shooting the ball well as a team, and also giving up additional possession opportunities throughout the game due to pace, that’s a recipe for a disastrous offense.

The Kings, who have played with a significant amount of pace this season, will be playing on the second night of a Miami-Orlando back-to-back. It will be interesting to see how inclined Sacramento is to push the basketball up the floor. I doubt that the Kings, with all the youth on their roster, will be lacking energy (even considering the back-to-back) this early in the season. If the Kings can play with the energy and pace that they’ve shown thus far in ‘18-’19, then the pressure on the Magic to match their pace (and shooting) could become more than Orlando can handle.

2) Be aggressive attacking the rim

It’s no secret, the Magic are struggling mightily as a team shooting the basketball through six games this season (29th in FG%, 27th in 3PT%, 28th ORtg).

To make matters worse, the Magic are marching to the free throw at an alarmingly infrequent rate. In theory, a team that is struggling to shoot/score can attack the rim in an effort to get easy points at the charity stripe. Manufacturing these easy scoring opportunities allows for players to “see the ball go through the hoop”, which in turn could help get some guys going.

But the Magic aren’t making that happen, at least not yet (not this season, nor really in any season since Dwight left Orlando). The Magic rank 29th in the NBA in free throw attempts (30th in FTr, 29th in FT/FGA) in ‘18-’19.

The good news is, the Magic really aren’t fouling their opponents very often either - a hallmark of Steve Clifford coached teams. If the Magic can make more of a concerted effort to force their way to the free throw line (and make their free-throws), while continuing to keep their opponent (the Kings) off the line, then they could feasibly off-set some early shooting woes and keep themselves in the game (until someone hopefully gets hot).

3) Begin the game strong

The Magic haven’t won at home since Opening Night nearly two weeks ago. Since that victory over Miami on October 17th, the Magic have dropped two contests at the Amway Center by considerable margins (have been outscored by 46 combined points in two losses).

In fact, the Magic have led for two minutes out of a possible 96 minutes in their last two home contests. The Amway Center home crowd will be restless if the Magic fail to get off to a hot start Tuesday night against a Kings team that plays eight guys under the age of 25 in their regular rotation.

Again, the Kings played last night in Miami. They also have to turn around and play in Atlanta on Thursday night. If the Magic can jump on the Kings early (and often), then Tuesday night could become a game where Coach Joerger opts to play his bench guys a little more than usual.