It’s closing time for the Orlando Magic.
Having won two straight, the Magic sit 1.5 games back of the Miami Heat. In the weeks prior, the Magic failed to capitalize on favorable match-ups, losing four of seven contests against winnable counterparts in the Grizzlies, Wizards and Cavaliers.
In walks what should be another sure-fire victory. The 31-42 New Orleans Pelicans lost six-straight games before toppling the Dallas Mavericks in overtime on Monday night. Trailing 101-94 with 3:36 remaining, Julius Randle scored nine-consecutive points to top the Pels with 30 on the night. Eflrid Payton notched his fifth-straight triple-double, becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to do so (Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Russell Westbrook. The former Magic point guard now brings that streak into Orlando.
Elfrid Payton joined Russell Westbrook and Michael Jordan as the only players in the last 35 seasons to record 5 straight triple-doubles pic.twitter.com/sDtXhRLQEh— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 19, 2019
Players to record five straight triple-doubles in NBA history:— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) March 19, 2019
Elfrid Payton pic.twitter.com/SSZeOuZhUw
Wouldn’t it be nice to spoil that streak?
The Pelicans have been somewhat disastrous with Anthony Davis since the All-Star break, specifically without Jrue Holiday. Holiday, rated the #1 perimeter defender by BBall Index, sits 11th in the entire NBA in Real Plus Minus. Lucky for Magic fans, Holiday should keep the bench warm for the remainder of the season with an abdominal strain.
The Pelicans have been a laughable -9.6 in Net Rating since Holiday’s injury relegated him there, and what was once the second-best offense this season has become a putrid 104 in their past seven games.
In his place, is ‘rookie’ Frank Jackson. Jackson is the speedster whipping around the baseline and jacking up three-point shots with a lightning quick release. Jackson tends to overplay. His effort and wide-eyes often get the best of him, but he has the makings of a JJ Redick level scorer with better athleticism.
Kenrich Williams is the ‘glue’ guy. The NBA-leader in rebounding percentage at the small forward position in February is a try-hard guy on the defensive end and capable three-point shooter on the offensive end.
Cheick Diallo has had a recent streak of good fortune in Anthony Davis’ place. A walking double-double of late brings tenacity on the boards and a sweet right-handed floater that seemingly never misses.
After exploding into the starting lineup in late January, Jahlil Okafor has cooled of late due to a lingering ankle injury. It’s unclear if he should see action. Should he, Nikola Vucevic may have trouble managing his size and footwork in the paint but should be able to take advantage of him on the offensive end.
For the Pelicans to manage the upset, it will take another standout performance from human-bowling-ball, Julius Randle. In his last 15 games, Randle is averaging 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists, including 34.3% from three-point range. The Magic can afford to let him get his, but may seek to slow him from his career-high 45 points posted against the Suns on Saturday night.
The Magic need to keep their momentum following their back-to-back victories over the Cavaliers and Hawks. The Magic still hold a considerably easier strength of schedule as compared to the Heat, and need to capitalize in order to keep their hopes alive. A loss here would be a disaster with just ten games remaining.