One would assume that whoever can string together a few solid defensive possessions n a row Saturday night in the Magic/Nets game has a very good chance to win the contest.
The Nets were victorious in both games against the Magic last month. Orlando blew a 21-point lead against Brooklyn back on January 18th inside the Amway Center, and then once again fell to the Nets (in Brooklyn) in a close game just six days later.
The Magic haven’t had any problems scoring against the Nets this season, but getting stops on defense against Brooklyn (especially down the stretch) has been a different story. The Nets are averaging 115.5 points against the Magic this season.
Orlando has struggled in particular stopping Brooklyn's two lead guards, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. The Magic won’t have to worry about Dinwiddie Saturday night. The Sixth-Man of the Year candidate had surgery earlier this week to repair injured ligaments in his right thumb and is expected to be out three to six weeks.
The Nets are 2-2 so far playing without Dinwiddie. The fifth-year guard is averaging a career high 17.2 points per game this season.
Russell has torched the Magic in two games this season, averaging 32.5 points (11-20 on 3PTA’s) and 8.5 assists. The fourth-year guard was named an NBA All-Star for the first time in his career yesterday, replacing injured All-Star guard Victor Oladipo.
Nikola Vucevic will also be playing in his first All-Star game after being named as a reserve Thursday night prior to Orlando’s game against the Indiana Pacers. Vucevic is Orlando’s first All-Star representative since Dwight Howard.
“This is really an emotional night for me,” Vucevic said after the game. “It’s hard to describe when you put so much work into it for so many years and then it finally pays off. That is really satisfying. My teammates and coaches share just as much credit for this.”
This moment made my night even more special to see how much my teammates are happy for me! It meant everything to me! Couldn’t have made it without them and their support all season long! #NBAAllStar https://t.co/atIhZud7yR— Nikola Vucevic (@NikolaVucevic) February 1, 2019
Fueled by the positive news that Vucevic was an All-Star, the Magic defeated the Pacers 107-100 Thursday night. Terrence Ross led the Magic with 30 points in 27 minutes off the bench, knocking-down five three-point attempts. Thursday night marked the ninth-time this season that Ross scored 20 or more points in a game.
The Nets last played Thursday night in San Antonio, dropping a close game (117-114) to the Spurs.
The Magic find themselves in an interesting predicament now two games before next Thursday's NBA Trade Deadline. Orlando sits four game out of the eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference. They’re also just 4.5 games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks, who hold the fifth-worst record in the NBA. That is the definition of a “crossroads”.
General Manager John Hammond has said in numerous interviews recently that he doesn’t necessarily consider the team to be in “selling mode” at the moment. But if a move were to be made, Hammond has said the move would be executed for the team’s long-term benefit.
Still, with Vucevic and Ross both set to become unrestricted free agents at season’s end, one has to at least wonder if Saturday night might be the last time that one of Orlando’s two veteran contributors plays in a Magic uniform.