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Magic vs. Wizards preview: Orlando’s chance to move up in the standings

The Magic currently sit a half-game behind the 10th-place Wizards in the playoff race

NBA: Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors may have done the Magic a favor in more ways than one on Thursday night.

By running the Wizards up and down the court, and with the game actually being fairly close throughout, the starters were forced to play heavy minutes in what was Washington’s first game of a back-to-back. After the Wizards fell, 126-118, with Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky and Trevor Ariza all playing 40 minutes each, they hopped on a flight bound for Orlando. Though the Wizards may have tired legs in Florida, they have thrived in the second game of back-to-backs this season, going 5-2 so far.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards’ loss to the Warriors kept the Magic (20-28) within a half game of the 10th-place Washington (20-27) in the Eastern Conference playoff race. So if Orlando can manage a home victory over the potentially weary Wizards, who have won four of their last six games and 7 of their last 11, the Magic will move up a spot in the standings and inch closer to that eighth and final playoff spot.

“We’ve got a team [on Friday] that’s right on our [expletive] in the standings,” Beal told reporters. “So we’ve gotta make sure that we’re ready to go and get that win.”

In order for the Magic to get the win, they’ll have to start knocking down the open looks they couldn’t convert on Wednesday in their 114-110 loss to Brooklyn. It was the fourth loss in the last five games for the Magic, who once again are at a season-low eight games under .500.

With the Magic teetering on the edge of the playoff race, and with the buyers or sellers decision coming as the trade deadline nears, and also with match-ups against Rockets and Thunder looming, a loss to the Wizards would be a damaging setback.

The Wizards enter with the edge in offensive rating, averaging 108.6 points per 100 possessions (18th in the league) to the Magic’s 105.5 per (24th). On the other end of the court, the Magic have the advantage, allowing 109.0 points per (14th) to the Wizards 111.3 (24th).

The two teams have split their first two games this season, but much has changed for the Wizards since. Three starters from those two games - John Wall, Markeiff Morris, and our old friend Dwight Howard - are all out.

Beal has thrived in the absence of his expensive backcourt mate. In the 12 games since it was announced that Wall would miss the remainder of the season, Beal has averaged 28.0 points, 5.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds, while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from three. The Wizards, who prior to shutting Wall down were 13-22, have gone 7-5 in his absence. Pretty alarming considering the Wizards just handed Wall a contract that starting in 2019-2020 will pay him $170 million over the next four seasons.

Tomas Satoransky replaced the ball-dominating Wall at starting point guard and has helped the Wizards create a more balanced attack, averaging 11.2 points, 5.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds in his last 12 games. With the Wizards frontcourt depleted by injury, 21-year-old Thomas Bryant, a 2017 second round pick who has range an can run the floor well, has stepped in, averaging 13.6 points, 7.9 rebounds over his last 15 games.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

He’ll match-up against Nikola Vucevic, who will be making one of his final campaigns before the All-Star reserves are officially selected. Aaron Gordon, still recovering from a sore back, was limited to 25 minutes against the Nets on Wednesday. Evan Fournier followed up his best game of the season with a nine-point, 4-of-11 shooting performance where he missed a layup that would have tied the game in the closing seconds. Jerian Grant could once again see back-up point guard duties with Isaiah Briscoe questionable with a sprained ankle. And Terrence Ross, coming off one of his worst shooting games of the season (3-for-12), will be celebrating the five-year anniversary of his 51-point performance.

The Magic could use one of those against the Wizards to help keep them alive in the playoff race.