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Magic vs. Nets preview: Toppling the Nets will prove critical to postseason aspirations

The Orlando Magic are all but assured a playoff spot, but avoiding Giannis will prove critical in any chance of surviving past round one

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Gut check time.

After suffering a sizable loss at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, the Magic square off with the unit directly ahead of them in the race to avoid the Milwaukee Bucks:

The Brooklyn Nets.

Getting to the playoffs is damn near a certainty thanks to the cupcake conference on the east coast (beyond the first six juggernauts). Despite just a three game lead over the Washington Wizards, Five Thirty-Eight gives the Magic 97 percent odds of advancing to the bonus round thanks in part to the league’s fourth-easiest remaining strength of schedule.

You may laugh at the notion of this group advancing past the first round, but if there is any chance at fulfilling that dream, they’ll need to avoid the Milwaukee Bucks. Doing so requires leapfrogging these Nets who have a 2.5 game lead with 26 to play. The Magic have two more opportunities after this one, but this three game swing could be what dictates their finish.

Casual fans may think the Nets are destined to fall apart with the loss to their two superstars.

They couldn’t be more mistaken.

The lineup of Dinwiddie - Levert - Harris - Prince - Allen is 17.8 points better than their opponent per 100 possessions in 269 possessions played, which would make them SEVENTH in the NBA among groups with 100 minutes or more. Insert Jordan in Allen’s place and the group is still 11.8 better with a 17.6 net-rating.

This group doesn’t lack for swagger with Spencer Dinwiddie running the show.

“When you line me up, me vs. you, there’s nobody else here, it’s me and you, there’s going to be a king and a queen in this scenario and I’m the king every time. You feel a certain way about it. Your confidence is at a certain type of level.”

Their 29-point victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night was their second-largest margin of victory on the season.

By contrast, the Nets were just 8-11 with Kyrie in the lineup.

This group mirrors Orlando in many ways. They’re a defensive-minded (seventh) team with sporadic or inconvenient bursts of offensive ineptitude (23rd).

Dinwiddie leads the group with nearly 21 points per game, but does so with remarkable inefficiency shooting just 40/30 splits on 16.4 shots per game. In the past 15 games, he’s been even worse (38/33).

Caris Levert has been steady in his return from injury putting in nearly 16 points per game on 36.9 shooting from three with solid defense. DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen are twin nightly double-doubles and will be difficult to manage on the boards. Thanks to those two, the Nets are second in the NBA in rebounds per game.

This third-year vet has emerged with the Nets in the past two months, going for double-digits in eight instances since mid-December. Fans know him as TLC and he’ll bring plenty of it against the Magic’s second-unit if they afford him any room to attack the paint.

Keys to the Game:

  • Attack the paint
  • Minimize turnovers and fast break opportunities
  • Force turnovers (BKN is 26th)

The season will not end with a loss against these Nets but this game is critical for the Magic. Losing will further the divide between clubs and all but assure a first round sweep at the hands of Giannis. While the Magic’s schedule is relatively easy going forward, the Nets face their fair share of gimmes with the league’s 12th-easiest remaining strength of schedule.

ESPN BPI gives the Nets a 58.5% chance to beat the Magic. Agree or disagree?

Comment below!!

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

Who: Orlando Magic (24-31) at Brooklyn Nets (26-29)

When: Monday at 7 p.m.

Where: Barclays Center - Brooklyn, NY