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Magic vs. Thunder preview: Magic look to start 4-0 for first time ever

The Magic look to make some franchise history out in Oklahoma City

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Magic will look to do something on Tuesday night that no team in franchise history has done before.

Not Shaquille O’Neal’s teams. Not Dwight Howard’s teams. Not any Magic team.

The 2020-2021 Orlando Magic will look to start the season 4-0.

To do so, all they must do is defeat a team they are expected to beat: the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Magic are coming off a thrilling comeback win over the Washington Wizards, scoring 43 points (two shy of the franchise record) in the fourth quarter to erase a 17-point deficit (the third largest fourth quarter comeback in franchise history) to improve to 3-0 (first time since the 2009-2010 season).

A combination of factors has contributed to the Magic having such a strong start to the season.

The Magic have fully handed the keys to the offense to Markelle Fultz, giving him more freedom to create and attack. Terrence Ross has been scoring in a variety of ways, leading a second unit that has shown vast early-season improvement with the additions of rookies Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke and the contributions of veterans Michael Carter-Williams and Khem Birch. The Magic’s continuity, in a conference that underwent an abundance of change during a truncated offseason, has produced clear chemistry benefits in the early going. The Magic have shown an uncharacteristic ability to get to the free throw line, averaging 32.3 attempts per (2nd most in the league), compared to 22.7 per last season (20th). That was highlighted on Sunday by hitting 37 of 38 free throws against the Wizards.

Regression towards the mean is expected in certain areas. But there are also clear areas for improvement, most notably being the Magic’s defensive play, having allowed 113.3 points per game; and with Nikola Vucevic seemingly finding his rhythm late in the Magic’s win over the Wizards.

They’ll face a Thunder team that will be playing the second night of a back-to-back, having lost a close one to the Jazz on Monday. The Thunder, behind its young duo of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort, the increased long-range volume of Darius Bazley and Mike Muscala, and the addition of veterans Al Horford and George Hill, has showed an early willingness to launch from deep compared to last season. The Thunder are attempting 37 threes per game in the early going, tied for 10th in the league, compared to last season when they took 30.2 attempts from deep (27th). Efficiency has dipped slightly with the added volume, dropping from 35.5% in 2019-2020 to 33.8% this season.

SGA is averaging 23.5 points and 8 assists per game in the early going, but he is struggling mightily from three-point range where he is hitting just 1.0 of 6.5 attempts per game (15.4%). Dort is averaging 20.5 points per while connecting on 54.5 percent of his 5.5 attempts per from deep. Both are also strong perimeter defenders that will make things challenging for the Magic.

But if Orlando plays the way it has during stretches of its 3-0 start, and also corrects some of very fixable elements in what is in actuality the strength of the team (team defense, Vooch’s efficiency), the Magic should be making some franchise history in Oklahoma City.

Who: Orlando Magic (3-0) at Oklahoma City Thunder (1-1)

When: Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena — Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: Fox Sports Florida