The Magic, who have suffered from consistency issues game to game this season, have been inconsistent quarter to quarter during this road trip.
Coming off back-to-back Jekyll and Hyde types of games where they watched their early leads transform into insurmountable deficits, the Magic head to Sacramento in the second-to-last stop on their six-game swing.
They’ll need to find their consistency, and maintain it for four whole quarters, to keep pace with the up-tempo Kings in what will be the Magic’s second night of a back-to-back.
The Kings (19-20) thrive in areas where the Magic (17-22) struggle.
The Kings play at the second quickest pace in the league at 104.86 possessions per, which could be a challenge for the Magic, the league’s forth slowest team with a pace of 98.23. The Kings are also the second best three-point shooting team in the league, making 38.9 percent of their 30.3 attempts per game. The Magic have allowed opponents to shoot 37.2 percent from three this season, which is second worst in the league.
The Kings hit a franchise record 20 threes in a 127-123 shootout loss to the Warriors on Saturday as the two teams combined for an NBA-record 41 threes.
Took less than a month for #TheScores to break this record again pic.twitter.com/KZCH5kiL2C— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) January 6, 2019
Despite their record-breaking performance, it was the fourth straight loss for the Kings, who lost the four games combined (all to playoff caliber Western Conference teams) by a grand total of 20 points. So the Kings are probably happy to see an Eastern Conference team, and one of the weaker ones at that, coming to town.
Against the fast-paced, sharpshooting Kings, the Magic will need the offense to run as smoothly as it did in the first half against the Wolves and the defense to play as admirably as it did in stretches against the Clippers.
The Magic, of course, lost each of those games, despite holding early leads of 19 and 15, respectively, after the offense wend cold.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to maintain,’’ Aaron Gordon told reporters after the game. “We get up to big leads because maybe they’re not ready, or whatever, but we’ve got to push that lead out and continue to play the way that got us the lead. We have to capability of handling games and we’ve shown it before, so we’ve got to figure out a way.”
If the inconsistent play continues, the Kings could quickly run and shoot the road-weary Magic right out of the game.
Further complicating Orlando’s defensive assignment is that D.J. Augustin, hardly a ballhawk at the point guard position, will be matched-up against De’Aaron Fox, who is in the midst of a breakout season (20.0 points and 8.5 assists per game) and recently proclaimed himself the fastest player in the league.
The Magic will need to rely on help defense to keep Fox from attacking the basket at will (perhaps extended minutes for the aggressive-of-late Mo Bamba?), and they’ll need strong rotations and close-outs to limit Sacramento’s outside shooting, particularly against Buddy Hield, who is averaging 20.5 points per game and shooting 44.4 percent from deep.
The Kings, with the league’s 14th best offensive rating at 109.6 points per, will also be bolstered by the expected return of prized rookie Marvin Bagley III.
Strong possibility Marvin Bagley III will play tomorrow when the @SacramentoKings host the @OrlandoMagic. Final determination will be made midday tomorrow, but he went hard in workouts the last couple days, is "feeling good" and "itching to get back out there."— Jason Anderson (@JandersonSacBee) January 7, 2019
Bagley, the second overall pick who, is averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds this season but has missed his last 11 games with a bone bruise in his left knee. He adds another versatile scorer and rebounder for the Magic to deal with.
The Magic in November fell to the Kings, 107-99. The Magic held an early double-digit lead in that game (sound familiar?), but Hield scored 25 points and the Kings shot 48.8 percent to earn the win.
After starting their road trip 1-3, the Magic could use a win in Sacramento before they close out the trip in Utah. Waiting for them when they return to Orlando? The Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics. Back-to-back.