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Magic vs. Wizards preview: Magic look to slow Bradley Beal, extend winning streak

The Magic need to finish strong on their five-game homestand

NBA: Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

All that stands between the Magic and a very successful five-game homestand is Bradley Beal.

Orlando looks to win a third straight and finish 4-1 on the homestand. To do so, they’ll have to slow Beal, who is coming off back-to-back 44-point performances, during which he helped the Wizards keep close in a 140-133 shootout loss to the Celtics and then upset the Timberwolves on the road 137-116.

Beal enters as the fifth leading scorer in the league at 29.7 points per game, anchoring a surprisingly potent Wizards offense that pushes the pace and is averaging 117.7 points per game (third best in the league), shooting 46.9 percent from the field (fifth best), and posting an offensive rating of 111.7 (fourth best).

“Hoop looks like it’s big enough to fit four or five basketballs in,” Beal told reporters after shooting 15 of 22 against Minnesota for his third 40-plus point game of the young season. “That’s where I’m at right now.”

To make the rim look a little smaller, Steve Clifford could call upon defensive irritant Michael Carter-Williams early to help contain Beal, who against the Magic in four games last season averaged 24.5 points per. Washington got a recent spark at both ends of the court from their own defensive irritant: backup center Mo Wagner. Best know for his ability to take a charge (he leads the league with 10 this season), Wagner came off the bench against the T-Wolves to drop 30 points on 13-for-15 shooting, including all four of his three-point attempts, and grab 15 rebounds. He helped to frustrate Karl Anthony-Towns in the second half, giving a lift to a Wizards defense that heads to Orlando with the league’s third worst defensive rating at 111.7.

Defense, of course, is Orlando’s forte, with the Magic owning the fifth best defensive rating at 101.7. The Magic should also be getting their defensive anchor back against the Wizards, as Jonathan Isaac is expected to return to the lineup after missing Friday’s game with a sprained ankle. Al Farouq-Aminu, who was out of the rotation one night and then in the starting lineup the next, filled in for Isaac and had his best game of the season with a 13-point, 13-rebound performance.

The Magic offense has scored over 100 points in five straight games, this after failing to do so in their first seven. Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross were both making shots in the Magic’s win over the Spurs on Friday, and when that is the case, good things usually happen.

“When T-Ross and I both make shots, it just spreads the floor and it gives us more opportunity,” Fournier told reporter. “Then the paint is open for Vooch. It’s the lineup we mostly ended games with last year and it’s the lineup we are comfortable with.”

After losing six of seven games, the Magic returned to Orlando for their current homestand and in those four games have posted an offensive rating of 112.7 and an effective field goal percentage of 51.0. Also helping the Magic offense recover from its slow start to season has been their uncharacteristic ability to get to the free throw line. Over their last six games, the Magic are attempting 26.7 free throws a game, and hitting 81.3 percent of those attempts.

Still, the offense sits at the bottom of the league in many key categories. That includes offensive rating (101.9, second to last), three-point shooting (29.5%, last), and effective field goal percentage (47.2%, last).

Another solid offensive performance, and a strong finish to the homestand, are crucial for Orlando. After their match-up against the Wizards, the Magic set out on the road for a four-game trip. It starts in Toronto on Wednesday and also includes stops in Indiana, Detroit and Cleveland.