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The Magic return with an important game against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks

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The Orlando Magic have the third-easiest remaining strength of schedule but the Mavericks stand in their way of adding to their back-to-back wins

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

Welcome back to basketball, kids!

The Orlando Magic return from their hiatus with a high hill to climb if they’re to gain any momentum heading into the summer. Unlike last year, the Magic have a comfortable hold on the eighth and final playoff spot with a four-game lead over the Washington Wizards.

However, at seven game below .500 and slotted to face Milwaukee in round one, the Magic seem doomed to repeat their performance from one season ago. Should we fall down that rabbit hole, the Magic will face more questions than answers prior to free agency.

But all in not lost yet. Last season, the Magic used the final third of the season to go on a starting 22-9 run. Revitalized by Nikola Vucevic’s All-Star campaign, Terrence Ross’ shooting a top-ten defense, our guys finished with the seventh-best net rating after All-Star break - something we’d like to see replicated.

Like last season, the Magic’ forward slate is beyond manageable. It’s the third-easiest in the NBA, giving the Magic an almost inevitable finish at the seventh seed should they handle their business.

But they’re not all gimmes.

Tickets: Orlando Magic vs. Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks may deceive on paper. Slated only seventh in the Western Conference, the Mavericks have slid down the power rankings thanks to a scary knee injury suffered to Luka Doncic. When he plays, the Mavs are 28-14, and seven points better than their opponent per 100 possessions, which ranks him in the 89th percentile and puts them on a win-expectancy of 57 games (per Cleaning the Glass).

This electric Slovenian does it all on the offensive end, where he eighth in offensive real plus-minus, sixth in scoring, third in assists, and 20th in rebounding. No one bests him in all three categories (28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.7 assists).

Where he’s most dangerous is in the pick-and-roll, where he’s already demonstrated masterful intelligence, navigating and manipulating bigs while sealing his own defender behind him. He’s third in the league with 13.2 PnR possessions per game and the third-most efficient with such volume at 92.7 percent (Lilliard, Paul).

After a sluggish start, Kristaps Porzingis has come to life in the past ten games with 24.3 points and 9.5 rebounds on 48 percent from the field, 37.3 percent from field. An underrated rim-protector, Porzingis is one of the league-leaders in blocks (1.9 per game).

Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr. help make this group the league’s best three-point shooting team. Each shoot over 40 percent on a combined 11.6 attempts per game and the two have been a blazing inferno over the past three weeks shooting 54.5 and 42.5 percent respectively. During that same stretch, Jalen Brunson has been firing off at 44 percent on 2.5 attempts per game.

A true to form Rick Carlisle squad, these Mavs turn the ball over just 12 times per game (second) and foul just 19 times per game (sixth). They’re third in offense and sixth in rebounding.

The Magic will struggle to slow Doncic and Porzingis but they can lock down the perimeter and both contest and limit the Mavericks’ deep range efficiency. The Mavs struggle to score in the paint, so the Magic will have to hedge and bait these playmakers into getting into the mid-range where they rank in the 15th percentile.

Offensively, the Magic need to take advantage of the Mavs porous transition defense (30th) and attack the paint early and often (18th). Due to the unfortunate loss of Dwight Powell, the Mavs have thrust Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber into larger roles which should come as an advantage for Markelle Fultz and Nikola Vucevic pick-and-rolls.

You don’t want to miss your one chance to see Luka Doncic in person. The kid truly special and one of the next greats not just in our game, but our generation. Check out our friends at StubHub, and see what tickets they have available!

And if you really want to become an expert on the Mavs, check out our friends’ work at Mavs Money Ball.

Who: Orlando Magic (24-31) vs. Dallas Mavericks (33-22)

When: Friday at 7 p.m.

Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida (Tickets)

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