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Magic vs. Nets preview: Magic play host to seventh-seeded Nets

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When the Magic look up in the Eastern Conference standings, they’ll find the Brooklyn Nets. Can they force the Nets back to the pack?

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Give the Orlando Magic credit where credit is due. They consistently make it difficult to know what to expect.

After thrilling back-to-back victories over the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets, they fell to the Detroit Pistons on the road in overtime. And why do the Magic and Pistons always seem to need extra minutes to decide outcomes?

But just 1.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Magic return home where they’ve been 12-11, with impressive wins over the aforementioned teams, in addition to the 76ers and Lakers, among others. They also shoot decidedly better at home, 45.6% to 43.1% on the road.

But to guard the home floor, they’ll have to slow the overachieving Brooklyn Nets, who have somehow won six of their previous eight games, including victories over the same Celtics and Rockets.

It was the heroics of point guard play, featuring D’Angelo Russell and his 34 points over the Celtics, followed by Spencer Dinwiddie and 33 of his own against the Rockets.

The Magic and their uncertain point guard depth will have their hands full, as will Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch against Jarrett Allen, the swatting machine who put in 20 points and 24 rebounds on Wednesday night.

Mo Bamba will likely be available, but giving him minutes over Birch may be a mistake as he makes the Magic 19 points worse per 100 possession this season. The stark drop-off in scoring when he is on the floor can’t be totally pinned on him, as he has shared the bulk of his minutes with Jerian Grant and Jonathon Simmons (37% on the season), but Birch has been a spark plug of sorts giving the Magic the energy off the bench they’ve sorely lacked (though his three points underwhelmed against Detroit).

The Magic will have to force tough shots on the perimeter, where the sharp shooting Joe Harris averages nearly 50% due to his relentless movement and lightning-quick trigger. DeMarre Carroll and second-round pick Rodions Kurucs also keep defenses honest at 36% and 35%, respectively.

The recipe for success against the Nets is simple: you have to outwork them for 48 minutes. Every quarter, every minute, every possession. The Nets overachieve through sheer effort at the hands of their head coach, Kenny Atkinson.

In addition, the Magic should attack the paint with abandon, where the Nets are susceptible (25th), and create extra opportunities for themselves against a Nets’ team that gives the ball over an alarming 15 times per game.

Think the Magic can pull it off?

Brooklyn Orlando
Pace: 98.6 (20th) Pace: 97.0 (26th)
ORtg: 111.3 (13th) ORtg: 106.0 (26th)
DRtg: 111.9 (21st) DRtg: 110.0 (14th)
Projected Starters:
Brooklyn Orlando
PG - D'Angelo Russell PG - D.J. Augustin
SG - Joe Harris SG - Evan Fournier
SF - Treveon Graham F - Jonathan Isaac
F - Rodions Kurus PF - Aaron Gordon
C - Jarrett Allen C - Nikola Vucevic
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Where To Watch

What: Orlando Magic (19-25) vs Brooklyn Nets (23-23)

Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL

When: Friday January 18th, 7:00 pm eastern

How: Fox Sports Florida, NBA League Pass