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Magic vs. Jazz preview: A much-needed end to a long, long road trip

The Magic have gone 1-4 and struggled offensively on their six-game road trip

NBA: Orlando Magic at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Magic’s six-game road trip comes to a merciful end in Utah.

Orlando has gone 1-4 on the trip, losing the four games by an average margin of 17 points per game. The road-weary Magic, who have played in all four U.S. time zones on one road trip for the first time in franchise history, per John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com, lost their offense somewhere along the way.

During their current three-game losing streak, the Magic offense has shot just 40 percent from the field and produced an offensive rating of 95.8 points per 100 possessions.

While the team as a whole has struggled offensively, at the root of the Magic’s issues over their last three games have been some of their young, core players. Aaron Gordon has failed to work within the flow of the offense, averaging 12.3 points on 31.6 percent shooting (23.1 percent from three), and Jonathan Isaac, has gone ghost on offense (Four points and two rebounds combined in last two games).

”It’s a tough situation for us and it’s disappointing the way we’ve been playing,” Nikola Vucevic told reporters after a 111-95 loss to Sacramento where the Magic trailed by as many as 29 points. ”We have to keep working and find a way to turn things around.”

That won’t be easy to do. The struggling Magic offense faces a stringy Jazz defense that owns the fifth best defensive rating in the league at 105.4 points per. And things sure as hell don’t get any easier for the Magic when they go home, where the Celtics and Rockets will be waiting for them for a weekend back-to-back. Thanks, schedule-makers!

”Things aren’t going to get any easier,” Fournier told reporters on Monday. “So, we either fight through it or we let this thing hit us even harder and our season will be over. ”We have two options right now.”

The Magic organization also has two options as the team continues to fall further out of playoff contention: buy or sell?

At 17-23, the Magic are still only two games behind the Hornets for the eighth and final spot. But barring a win in Utah, Orlando faces the very real possibly of their losing streak reaching six (or perhaps nine) games. The Magic must decide if they want to bring in talent to make a push for the playoffs, or sell off veterans set to enter free agency like Vucevic and Terrence Ross and enter tank mode.

This upcoming stretch of games could very well determine the course the front office will take.

It begins in Utah, where the Magic will face a Jazz team that they last met in Mexico City in December. The Magic won, 96-89, Thanks to the Jazz shooting just 31.5 percent, the Magic managed to erase an 11-point deficit, overcome 22 turnovers, and head back to the states with a 96-89 win and a South-of-the-Border sweep.

The Jazz (20-21), who struggle as is offensively with a rating of 107.2 points per (21st), will be down to their third string point guard when they face Orlando on Wednesday.

Starting point guard Ricky Rubio suffered a hamstring injury in Utah’s 114-102 loss to the Bucks on Monday and will miss two weeks. His back-up, Dante Exum, is also out two weeks with an ankle injury. That means that Raul Neto could be in line for his first start of the season.

He’ll share the backcourt with Donovan Mitchell, who is posting similar stats to his rookie campaign, averaging 20.4 points 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game this year. But he has struggled with his shot, shooting just 40.9 percent from the field and 30.9 percent from three (though he is coming off a season-high six three-pointers against the Bucks).

Rudy Gobert enters averaging a career-high 14.8 points per game to go along with 12.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. His fellow Frenchman, Evan Fournier, will likely be happier to see Gobert than opposing center, Nikola Vucevic, will be.

The Magic are 3-7 in their last 10 games in Utah, and overall have dropped 12 of their last 16 to the Jazz.