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Magic vs. Mavericks preview: The must-win stretch of Orlando’s playoff push begins

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The Magic’s next seven opponents are all under .500

NBA: Preseason-Orlando Magic at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The time has come for the Magic to start beating the teams they are expected to beat.

Orlando’s match-up against the Mavericks on Friday marks a stretch of seven straight games against opponents with sub-.500 records, with five of those seven games being played on their home court.

For a Magic team that seems to play down to their opponents, with recent losses to the Eastern Conference’s three worst teams, each and every game must be played with a sense of urgency.

The favorable schedule comes at a time when the Magic sit one game behind the Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot and 3.5 games behind the sixth-seeded Pistons and seventh-seeded Nets.

Brooklyn has an incredibly challenging schedule starting in mid-March that will offer the Magic an opportunity to gain some ground. As for the race for eighth, the Magic also have the “easier” schedule of the teams involved...

The favorable schedule, of course, means squat if the Magic don’t win the games in which they are favored. First up is the Dallas Mavericks, in what will be Luka Doncic’s first game in Orlando, and possibly Dirk Nowitzki’s last.

When the two teams met in December, Doncic flirted with a triple-double (7 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists) and the Magic shot just 36 percent in a 101-76 loss to the Mavericks. Dallas, though, has dropped eight of their last nine games and is experimenting with various starting lineups.

Aaron Gordon will draw the defensive assignment on Doncic, the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year. Doncic continues to post numbers that are absolutely absurd for someone who a week ago just celebrated their 20th birthday, averaging 21.1 points 7.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists. The Mavs have also gotten a boost of late from center Dwight Powell, who is coming off a 26-point, 10-rebound performance in which he shot 11-for-12 from the field. Since the All-Star break, Powell is averaging 18.1 points and 7.3 rebounds.

Dallas is just ahead of the Magic in offensive rating, averaging 107.9 points per 100 possessions (21st) compared to Orlando’s 106.7 (24th). The Mavs are middle of the pack defensively with a rating of 109.7 per (17th), but have struggled of late, allowing 127 points to the Nets and 132 to the Wizards.

The Mavs, with regard to their upcoming draft pick, also have some tanking motivation, according to Mavs Moneyball...

If they land in the top five of the draft order they keep their pick; if not, it goes to the Atlanta Hawks. Lottery selection determines the top four. At the writing of this the Mavericks are 7th in the lottery standings and have a 29.4 percent chance of landing in the top four. If they move to 6th in those standings their chances jump to 37.2 percent.

The Magic, who have beaten the Mavericks the last three times they have played in Orlando, struggled defensively in the first half of their loss to the Sixers before giving more effort in the second half and limiting Philly to 44 points. Orlando is expected to have Terrence Ross back in the lineup after he missed the loss to the Sixers with a sore Achillies.

That’s good news for a Magic team that that enters a must-win stretch of their playoff push.

“It’s important that we try to get some wins these next seven to ten games,” Nikola Vucevic told the Orlando Sentinel. “We’ll have a good home stretch, as well, so it’s important for us to defend our home court. I don’t think it has anything to do with the opponent. It’s just the time of the year and every game is important for us, so we’re just going to have to win as many games as we can and win our way into the playoff spots.”