It’s the final game for the Orlando Magic before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. So, as we are contractually and dramatically obligated to ask...
Will someone play their final game as a member of the Magic tonight??
No one seems to know the answer to that question. Potential trade activity for the Magic has been complicated by their ability to stay within arm’s reach of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, where a sub-.500 record could land a team in the postseason.
Do the 22-31 Magic make a push for the postseason and try to bring in a point guard or shooter who will help them get there? Do they trade off free-agents-to-be like All-Star Nikola Vucevic and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Terrence Ross and take whatever they can get as they look to the future? Do they do nothing at all?
Perhaps the outcome of the Magic’s game against the Thunder will help in some small way determine which direction the front office opts to go.
The Magic, tied with the Wizards for 10th in the East, sit three games behind the eighth-seeded Heat, and still have to leapfrog the Pistons to get to them. Coming off wins over the Pacers and Nets, the Magic are seeking just their second three-game winning streak of the season (the first was in mid-November with wins over the Sixers, Lakers and Knicks).
To do so, they’ll have to defeat a team that just had their lengthy winning streak snapped. The Thunder won seven consecutive games before falling to the Celtics, 134-129, on Sunday in Boston.
The sixth win of that streak came in Orlando a week ago with the Thunder prevailing, 126-117, despite being without two starters (Steven Adams and Terrance Ferguson, both of whom have since returned). OKC was powered by 31 first-half points from Paul George (37 total), a triple-double from Russell Westbrook, and 18 fourth quarter points from Dennis Schroder. The Magic erased a 15-point third quarter deficit to take the lead in the fourth, but were undone by silly fouls, a lack of ball movement and Schroder’s heroics.
The Magic have gone 3-12 against the Thunder in their last 15 games, including 1-8 at Oklahoma City.
The Thunder enter with the fourth best defensive rating in the league at 105.0 points per 100 possessions, and the 13th best offensive rating at 109.9 points per. Over their last 12 games, the Thunder have produced the league’s fourth best offensive rating in that span, averaging 117.3 points per.
All-Star starter and MVP candidate Paul George has scored over 30 points in seven of his last eight games and is shooting just over 50 percent from three on 10.4 attempts per game in that stretch. In his last four games, highlighted by a 43-point performance against the Heat, Paul is averaging 38.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting 53.7 percent from the field and 51.0 percent from three.
“There’s not a lot of weaknesses in [George’s] game, so he’s a tough cover,” Aaron Gordon told reporters.
As if that wasn’t enough to handle, Westbrook will be seeking his seventh straight triple-double. Westbrook - shooting 41.8 percent from the field, which is the worst since his rookie year, and just 25 percent from three - is shooting 45.2 percent over his last seven games, including 35.3 percent from three.
When Westbrook attacks the rim on Tuesday, he will be greeted at times by Khem Birch, who had a DNP when the Magic and Thunder last played. Birch, with Mo Bamba expected to miss his second straight game with a sore foot, will again serve as back-up center to Nikola Vucevic.
After facing the Thunder, the Magic will next host the Minnesota Timberwolves just hours after the trade deadline has passed.
Reports have suggested that the goal for the Magic organization seems to be to make the postseason and end the seven-year drought (even if that means sacrificing their lottery chance for a potential first-round sweep).
Perhaps a win on the road over one of the league’s elite will convince the front office that the Magic should keep their assets and make a push for that eighth seed. Either way, whether to buy or sell, there will be phone calls to make over the next 48 hours.