The Orlando Magic are going from one 21-3 team to the next.
Not sure how many teams in NBA history have faced teams with near .900 winning percentages a quarter of the way into the season in back-to-back games, but that is the reality for the Magic.
Orlando battled the Bucks on Monday, and while Steve Clifford dismisses moral victories, going into Milwaukee without your best player and overcoming a slow start to keep it a close game against a team on a 14-game winning streak is encouraging.
But the Magic are in need of actual victories, and their next opportunity to get one will be equally as challenging with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers coming to Orlando. The Lakers head to Central Florida having won 14 of their last 15 games to push their record to 21-3. It’s a better start than any Shaq-and-Kobe-led Lakers team ever had, last matched in L.A. by 2008-2009 Lakers that beat the Magic in the NBA Finals.
Expecting a Magic win is a huge ask. But with the challenging schedule ahead, including a looming four-game West Coast trip, a Magic team that’s 3-8 on the road needs to capitalize on all home games, even if that means stealing a win against the league’s best team. Even without Nikola Vucevic, and while missing open shots and allowing far too many second-chance points, the Magic showed they could compete with the Bucks.
The Magic have had success against LeBron in recent seasons, winning four of their last six overall, including a two-game sweep of the Lakers last season. That, of course, was long before LeBron was gifted a sidekick like Anthony Davis, who is coming off a 50-point performance and Western Conference Player of the Week honors.
The Lakers, who have won 11 straight road games, enter with the league’s fourth best offensive rating at 112.9 and the sixth best defensive rating at 103.5.
“It’s the most competitive, talented defensive roster I’ve ever coached,” Frank Vogel told Silver Screen and Roll. “The depth that we have, the perimeter defense that we have. The IQ with LeBron quarterbacking everything in the game and pregame, and helping with establishing the plans and everything. We have a high ceiling on that end of the floor.”
Magic fans certainly won’t argue Vogel’s defensive claims, at least not in favor of the teams he coached in Orlando. Vogel returns to Orlando for the first time since being fired after the 2017-2018 season, following a two-year stint in which he guided a roster of misfits to a 54-110 record. Vogel arrives as the leader in the clubhouse for Coach of the Year.
He brings with him another ghost of Orlando Magic past in Dwight Howard, who has embraced his new role in his second go-round with the Lakers. He is part of a three-headed frontcourt monster, along with Davis and JaVale McGee, that has engulfed perimeter players directed to the paint and helped the Lakers total a league-leading 171 blocks.
So yes, a great challenge awaits the Orlando Magic.
But it’s a game that offers a multitude of subplots and plenty of reason to be in the arena: seeing LeBron James in person during what seems like his never-ending prime, welcoming back old friends in Dwight Howard and Frank Vogel, or simply watching the Magic fight for a much-needed win against a team off to a historic start.
Who: Orlando Magic (11-12) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (21-3)
When: Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida (Tickets)
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