After suffering a heartbreaking loss to a team with one of the worst records in the league, the Magic now face the team with the league’s best record.
With the Magic in desperate need of a win after dropping four straight games, and seven of their last nine, a match-up with the 26-10 Toronto Raptors comes at about the worst of times.
"They've been really good for a couple of years, but this is their best team. They've got great depth and they've played together now for another year. So their depth is a big part of it, and then he's (Kawhi Leonard's) a superstar." -Steve Clifford discussing the Raptors— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) December 28, 2018
It was a tough last-second loss to the Raptors on November 20th that kicked off the Magic’s recent slide. Danny Green’s jumper just before the buzzer gave the Raptors a 93-91 win in Orlando, snapping the Magic’s three-game winning streak and dropping their record to 9-9. It was the start of a 5-11 stretch for the Magic, who are now 14-19 and have dropped to 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The good news for the Magic as they enter their match-up with the Raptors is their offense awoke from its seven-game slumber, during which they failed to reach 100 points in a single game. Against the Suns on Wednesday, they dropped 120 points, shot 45.8 percent from the field, and connected on 14 of 36 three-point attempts. But still, it wasn’t enough on a night where their defense failed them en route to a two-point overtime loss.
Orlando will have to be damn near perfect at both ends of the court to have a chance against the Raptors. The challenge comes in seeing if the Magic, with their 27th ranked offensive rating, can sustain their offensive success from Wednesday and keep pace against a Raptors team that owns the league’s best offensive rating at 112.6 points per 100 possessions. The Magic did hold the Raptors to 93 points in November, which is their second lowest scoring game of the season.
The Raptors, fresh off a come-from-behind 106-104 victory in Miami where they erased a 17-point third quarter deficit, will also be without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who has missed five of his last six games with back issues.
Raptors have already ruled Kyle Lowry (back) OUT for tomorrow's game in Orlando.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 27, 2018
The Raptors, though, have something called point guard depth (foreign in these parts), and throw out a more than capable back-up in Fred VanVleet, who is averaging 12.8 points per game in eight starts this season.
VanVleet is one of six players that average double-figures for the well-balanced Raptors this season (nearly seven if you count Danny Green at 9.9 points per). That is led, of course, by Kawhi Leonard, who has returned to MVP form and is averaging 26.9 points per game. Aaron Gordon, who Josh Robbins of The Athletic reported was under the weather on Thursday but expected to play, will draw the unenviable defensive assignment.
The second leading scorer on the league’s best team, you ask? None other than brief Magic forward Serge Ibaka, who is averaging 16.4 points per game and could be in line for some All-Star consideration (where he could potentially play alongside Victor Oladipo, and...yeah, you know where I’m going with this).
The Raptors, which have won 10 of their last 12 games in Orlando, also have the ninth best defensive rating in the league at 106.5 points per and limit opponents to a 50.7 effective field goal percentage (sixth best in the league).
So, snapping a four-game losing streak won’t be easy for the Magic. But prior to their recent downfall, they did earn some significant wins over the league’s elite. Can they string together a second straight successful night on the offensive end? Can they get any production from their reserves? Can they stop the bleeding and come away with what could be a season-altering win?
Join the discussion later tonight in our GameThread.