Orlando and Washington are two teams both currently flailing on the fringes of the playoff race. The similarities, however, pretty much end there. Despite being separated in the standings by only 2.5 games, the general consensus is that the Wizards are on their way to the lottery while the Magic could be printing playoff tickets for the first time since 2012.
Yet, if you were only looking at last start results you’d be forgiven for assuming it was the other way round.
Against the Grizzlies, the Magic started slowly and finished poorly, failing to convert a single field goal across the game’s last 5:42 on their way to 105-97 loss. Evan Fournier was tossed, Steve Clifford blew his top, and Aaron Gordon pinged his back. What was meant to be the first game in a winnable stretch started in pretty much the worst fashion imaginable.
And then there are the Wizards of Washington, a team suffering through a season beset by injury, malaise and butt surgery. So with seemingly little to play for and ping pong balls to collect they came out against a desperate Kings side and proceeded to … win? A late Bradley Beal-inspired surge ensured they are riding high on a (one game) winning streak.
Really, that’s the key. If the Magic are serious about the playoffs they need to take care of the Wizards, and that starts and ends with Beal. Since John Wall went out with injury he’s been dynamite, scoring the ball effectively and flashing vastly improved playmaking skills. He gets to the line, finishes in the lane, and is always a threat shooting the long ball. Fournier will see a lot of this match up and it’s important that he keep it close.
Heading into this one, what questions might be rattling around in the head of Magic fans? How about:
- How concerned should we be about the back injury that Gordon is currently managing? He has said he intends to play through it, but we’ve seen already a couple of times this season what an injury-limited version of AG looks like. The team needs him at his best.
- Can Jerian Grant do enough in the backup point guard role to help us forget the injury to Isaiah Briscoe?
- Jonathan Isaac has been trending in the right direction of late, but is it possible he could still find another gear? The team needs a boost, and he might be the player to provide it.
- How many times will Magic fans think about the fact that the front office once decided it was a good idea to spend $15 million on Jeff Green, a player who has basically never made his team demonstrably better?
- Can the Magic win in Washington? Dating back to 2012, Orlando has lost 13 of the last 14 games they have played on the Wizards home court. If the Magic manage a victory on Wednesday, and if the Heat fall to the Pistons, Orlando will once again move into a tie with Miami for the eighth spot.
As always, be sure to join us in the game thread and dive into the discussion!