The return to Orlando has not been kind to the Magic.
Following a six-game, 10-day road trip, the Magic were rewarded with a three-game homestand against three quality opponents. After dropping the first two games to the Thunder and Celtics, the Magic look to salvage the final game as they welcome a surging Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers to town.
The last time Leonard was on the court in Orlando, he was helping the Raptors take a 3-1 first round series lead over the Magic en route to leading the Raptors to their first NBA championship. This time around he is coming off his first career triple-double — dropping 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 122-117 win at Miami on Friday. Having scored over 30 points in each of his last seven games, Leonard in that stretch is averaging 35.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.7 steals while shooting 51.5 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three.
He has led the Clippers to five win in their last six games (he didn’t play in their lone loss to the Trae Young-less Hawks), as they improved to 32-14, good for third best in the West. The Clippers have also won their last 12 games against the Magic, with Orlando’s last victory coming in late-2013.
To snap that lengthy streak, the Magic will have to stop a team that is top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Clippers own an offensive rating of 112.3 points per 100 possessions, which is sixth best in the league, and a defensive rating of 106.1 points allowed per 100 possessions, also good for sixth best in the league. The Clippers are expected to be without Paul George for a ninth straight game, but a Magic defense that played poorly against the Thunder and streaky against the Celtics, will still have its hands full.
In addition to Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, both averaging over 19 points per game off the bench, Landry Shamet has filled some of the offensive void left by George. Shamet scored 22 points in the win over Miami, and over his last six games is averaging 13.4 points while hitting 40 percent of his 7.4 three-point attempts per game, giving the Clippers a valuable off-the-ball threat.
It has not been a seamless transition for the Clippers, who went from a scrappy bunch who made the playoffs last season to a star-studded group with big expectations. The Athletic recently reported of chemistry issues in the locker room over conflicting approaches to load management. As expected with players like Leonard and George, there has also been a shift in style of play for the Clippers, now an isolation-heavy team that ranks in the bottom third of the league in assist percentage and passes per game.
The Clippers could also be without one of the league’s most tenacious defenders in Patrick Beverly for a third straight game, which could greatly benefit Markelle Fultz. In the Magic’s loss to the Clippers on Jan. 16, Fultz was held to 5-for-17 shooting as he tallied 11 points and five assists. While being guarded by Beverley, which was 54.2 percent of his time on the court per NBA.com, Fultz’s ability to penetrate was limited as he recorded no assists and resorted to shooting from the outside, making 1 of 3 three-point attempts while opposite Beverley. A Magic team in the midst of one of the most challenging stretches of their schedule will need any break they can get as they face another of the league’s best.
Despite leading Boston by 16 points, Orlando failed to capitalize on facing a shorthanded Celtics team playing without Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Enes Kanter. Now a loss to the Clippers would drop the Magic five games below .500, matching their season worst.
Following their match-up with the Clippers, Orlando plays four of its next five on the road, beginning with a home-and-home against the first place Heat. As for the Clippers, after their game in Orlando, they are set for a Hollywood showdown with the Lakers on Tuesday. So, there will be extra motivation on both sides to get the win.
Who: Orlando Magic (21-25) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (32-14)
When: Sunday at 6 p.m.
Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida (Tickets)
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