The Magic are coming off a much-needed weekend off.
Following a five-game road trip out West, the Magic returned to Florida to play three games in four nights. Fatigue had set in and it showed as the Magic were dominated by the shorthanded Pacers in a 112-90 loss on Friday.
“That’s why playing smart, and moving the ball when you need to, that’s when you’ve got to develop the habits, so when you’re not at optimum energy, that you’re (still) playing a smart game,” Steve Clifford told our Aaron Goldstone after the game.
The Magic again are back on the road, playing in Dallas, at an arena where the Mavericks haven’t lost since November 2. The Mavs (13-11), after a stretch of seven losses in eight games, have now won 11 of their last 15 games, including nine straight at home.
That includes a dramatic 107-104 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday, in which rookie Luka Doncic scored 11 straight points in the closing minutes.
The Magic will get their first look at Doncic, who along with Trae Young was the primary object of Magic fan’s desire leading up to the draft. The Magic were reportedly one of several teams that inquired about trading up in the draft to take Doncic, who was selected third by the Hawks and then traded to the Mavericks for Young and a top-five protected first round pick.
The 19-year-old Doncic enters Monday’s game against the Magic as the early favorite to win Rookie of the Year. He is averaging 18.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists, and shooting 43.6 percent from the floor, including 38.4 percent from three...and proving to be the exact type of player the Magic are in need of: a go-to scorer with that killer instinct.
(Please don’t remind me of when the Magic won that late-season Tankfest against the Mavs last April)
Another of the Mavericks’ recent draft picks who was highly coveted by Magic fans likely won’t be available for this match-up. Dennis Smith Jr., recovering from a wrist injury, is listed as doubtful (Also, Dirk Nowitzki’s season debut will not come against the Magic, as had been speculated). Starting in Smith’s place will be Doncic’s fellow rookie Jalen Brunson, who was selected with the 33rd pick in the Draft after guiding Villanova to the NCAA Championship. With Smith missing a second straight game on Saturday, Brunson tallied a season-best 14 points, shooting 7-for-9 from the field.
The rookie duo will anchor a Mavericks’ team that has an offensive rating of 108.6, which is 14th best in the league, and an effective field goal percentage of 52.9 percent (9th best). As one might expect of a team that often places the ball in the hands of young players, the Mavericks turn the ball over more than most teams in the league, averaging 16 turnovers per (third worst).
The Magic (12-14), who have dropped four of their last six games, will have to capitalize on their rested legs and put pressure on the Mavs’ young ballhandlers, as they face a team that has wins over the Warriors, Celtics and Clippers on their home floor.
In the middle will be a battle on the boards and race for the double-double as Nikola Vucevic (18 double-doubles) squares off against DeAndre Jordan (15). Vucevic, who suffered a sprained ankle in the Magic’s loss on Friday, is listed as probable. And that’s important because….
After Monday’s game, the Magic again have two days off. Then it’s on to Mexico City for “home” games against the Bulls and Jazz.