The Orlando Magic have been playing the NBA’s best defense in the month of February with a rating of 100.7.
It’s quite a divide from the league’s second-placed team (Indiana 102.1), and has been a significant part of their surge up the Eastern Conference power rankings.
But the Magic are still often susceptible to the ‘every-now-and-again’ clunker and put their flaws on full display against the New York Knicks Tuesday night, allowing 75 bench points from the NBA’s second-worst squad (13 wins).
However, the Magic have often proved their penchant for upsetting the giants of the East and West with impressive victories over the Raptors, Bucks, 76ers, Celtics, and Rockets, among others. And the Magic and their elite defensive unit will face yet another test against the NBA’s best offense in the Golden State Warriors (115.8).
The Magic nearly upset the Warriors in the Oracle Arena on November 26th. It took all of Kevin Durant’s 49 points to claw back from a 14-point third quarter deficit and survive, 116-100. Durant’s numbers were a bit deceiving. Aaron Gordon did an admirable job in the first half, limiting him to just 11 inefficient points before leaving at halftime due to back pain.
Quite a lot has changed since that point in time. For one, the Warriors were without both Steph Curry and DeMarcus Cousins. The Magic have improved through the subtractions of Jerian Grant, Jonathon Simmons and the rookie play of Mo Bamba. In their places, Isaiah Briscoe, Wesley Iwundu and Khem Brich have been upgrades in spurts. But more importantly, Jonathan Isaac has lifted his game to another level.
In the last 12 games, Isaac is averaging:— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) February 27, 2019
13.6 points, seven rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.1 steals in 29 minutes while shooting 46%, 37% from three. https://t.co/aGHmuD6z4c
It’ll take that kind of performance from Isaac to upend the overwhelming favorite for the championship crown, even at home where the Magic have been a bit better this season (16-16).
The Warriors will meet the Magic 24 hours after facing off with the Heat in Miami, and could bring some tired legs into the Amway Center if Erik Spoelstra’s squad can give them a run for their money. Boogie will get a rest against Miami and will be a go against Orlando.
Led by Curry’s 28.4 ppg, and Durant’s 27.0 ppg, the Warriors will set off fireworks early and often. Even Klay Thompson has regained his elite long-distance stroke, approaching 40% for the season after a sluggish start.
The 43-17 West-leading squad lead the league in points (118.8), assists (29.6), assists to turnover (2.6/1), effective field goal percentage (56.2%), and blocks (6.6). They are lethal in fast-break scoring (19.6, 2nd), and deadly from the perimeter (3rd in FGM).
The Magic can’t hope to outscore them. Defeating the Warriors will mean slowing the pace and forcing difficult shots. It’ll also mean a better performance from Terrence Ross, who managed just 1-for-10 shooting against the Knicks.
Most importantly, it’ll take focus and execution. The Magic will work the pick-and-roll early and often and hope to create the separation necessary to create efficient offensive opportunities.
Think they have a shot? Comment below!
Magic - Augustin - Fournier - Isaac - Gordon - Vucevic
Warriors - Curry - Thompson - Durant - Green - Cousins
And hey, check out our podcast, featuring OPP contributors Preston Ellis, Zach Oliver, Aaron Goldstone and Will Ogburn!