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Magic vs. Thunder preview: Orlando must stop the surging Thunder and another MVP candidate

The Magic have lost six of seven. The Thunder have won five straight

NBA: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

As Aaron Gordon said, it’s time for the Magic to “take care of the crib.”

If they don’t start doing so this upcoming three-game homestand, there will be very little chance of their crib being open for playoff basketball.

The Magic, losers of six of their last seven games, are desperate for a win to keep the gap between them and eighth spot in the East from widening any further. Having dropped three straight, and 10 of their last 13 overall, Orlando has fallen four games back of the eighth-seeded Charlotte Hornets.

There were, of course, some winnable games in that stretch that the Magic gave away by failing to protect leads and close out games. Against Houston on Sunday, the Magic led by as many as 16 before James Harden and the Rockets stormed back for the win.

“It’s a lot of games this year that I feel like we handed away,” Gordon told reporters on Sunday. “We have a couple more home games coming up so we have to take care of the crib and see if we can get on a winning streak.”

That won’t be so easy as they kick off the homestand by welcoming MVP candidate Paul George, walking triple-double Russell Westbrook, and the surging Oklahoma City Thunder to Orlando.

Having won five straight games, capped by a 118-112 win over the league-best Bucks on Sunday, the Thunder now own the third best record in the West at 31-18. One of the keys to the OKC winning streak has been hot three point shooting, as the Thunder has connected on 45 percent of their attempts over the last five games.

George, recently named an All-Star starter, is averaging career-bests of 27.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals to go along with 4.0 assists (0.1 below his career-high). In addition to shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from three (true shooting percentage of 58.5), George also poses problems on the opposite end of the court as one of the league’s best perimeter defenders.

During the Thunder’s five-game winning streak, George has averaged 30.3 points per game, while connecting on 50 percent of his 8.5 three-point attempts per. That included a 36-point, 13-rebound performance, in which he made 8 of 12 threes, as he out-dueled fellow MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo....

If stopping George wasn’t challenging enough, the Magic must contain a player that has always given them fits in Westbrook, who is en route to averaging a triple-double for the third straight season (21.6 points, 10.7 assists, 10.8 rebounds). In 19 career games against the Magic, Westbrook has averaged 24.8 points, 8.4 assists and 8.3 rebounds, including some historic performances on the Magic’s home court...

Good luck to the Magic point guards with all that.

Even with their two stars, and despite playing at the league’s third fastest pace, the Thunder are middle of the pack this season in offensive rating, averaging 109.2 points per 100 possessions (16th in league).

The Thunder make up for it on the defensive end with the second best defensive rating in the league at 104.5 points per. The OKC defense is most vulnerable in the paint, but that’s an area the Magic struggle to generate offense, mustering only 40.5 points in the paint per game (5th worst in league).

The Magic have lost 11 of their last 14 against the Thunder. Tuesday’s game will be the first of two match-ups between the two teams over a seven-day span.