It’s a postseason preview! Right?
It seemed certain at this time on Tuesday. But then the Nets went and upset the Bucks, and the Magic were sluggish in their loss to the Pacers. Now Brooklyn has jumped back into the seventh spot, with a half-game lead over Orlando.
The Magic, of course, still have five games remaining, one of which is against the Nets. Plenty of time to make up that half-game, and we fully expect them to do so. (Side note: the Magic can clinch a playoff berth tonight with a win and a Wizards’ loss against Philly).
So, this game against the defending champions will very much serve as a measuring stick to see just how well they can compete against one of the East’s elite. The Magic have not fared well against that group this season, gong a combined 3-15 this against the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Heat, Pacers and Sixers.
That showed Tuesday against one of the bubble’s unbeatens (the 3-0 Pacers), and now the Magic take on another in the 2-0 Raptors, who opened the restart with an impressive 107-92 win over the Lakers. Kyle Lowry had 33 points and 14 rebounds, as Toronto seemed to send the league a reminder that the Kawhi-less Raptors are quite capable of repeating.
Toronto followed that up with a 107-103 win over Miami, led by the other half of the Raptors’ starting two-point guard set, Fred VanVleet, who recorded a career-high 36 points, shooting 7-for-12 on three-point attempts. That helped the Raptors, one of the league’s top outside shooting teams (37.4%, fifth best), increase their overall percentage from deep over the first two restart games to 46.9 percent (30-for-64).
The Raptors also enter with the league’s second best defensive rating at 104.7 points per 100 possessions, trailing only the Bucks (102.0), meaning whichever team the Magic ends up playing, their offense will be in for a challenging series. That’s been the case for the Magic in their three matchups with the Raptors this season, all of which have been won in convincingly by Toronto. The Magic have failed to reach the 100-point mark against Toronto this season, averaging 91.7 points per on 37.2 percent shooting in the three games.
Those early-season games seem like they were played in another lifetime following the NBA’s hiatus, and the Magic offense has vastly improved since, sporting the league’s best offensive rating since Feb. 10 at 118.7. The hiatus didn’t slow the offense, with the Magic shooting 51 percent from the field, including 39.8 percent from three, over their first three bubble games.
It’s an important game for Nikola Vucevic, who’s stellar play since the restart has been overshadowed by the unfortunate loss of Jonathan Isaac. In bubble play, Vucevic has been incredibly efficient, shooting 61.9 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three, while averaging 23.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
“OH MY GAWD! THAT’S MARC GASOL’S MUSIC!”
We all remember what happened in the playoffs last season, when Vooch’s career-year ended in disastrous fashion as he was silence by Gasol in the Magic’s first-round loss to the Raptors. Vooch, pushed out of his comfort zone by Gasol’s physicality and the Raptors’ aggressive double teams, averaged just 11.2 points per game on 36.2 shooting from the field.
That trend continued in the Magic’s first game against the Raptors this season, when Vucevic went 1-for-13 from the field for five points. In his next matchup against the Raptors, Vooch went 1-for-7 from the field before suffering an ankle injury that would sideline him for three-plus weeks.
Vooch, though, has seemed to regain All-Star form...
During the last 20 games (February 1-present), Orlando Magic center @NikolaVucevic is averaging 21.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG and 4.2 APG, while shooting 54.0% (182-337) from the floor.#GameOnORL#WholeNewGame pic.twitter.com/AjZ9n3MNZL— Orlando Magic PR (@Magic_PR) August 5, 2020
It will be interesting (and very important) to see if that form, and efficiency, continues against his least favorite NBA team (and player).
The Magic will be without Michael-Carter-Williams due to a strained tendon in his foot. His defensive services certainly could have been used against the Raptors’ backcourt.
Tough assignment all around for the Magic, particularly on the second night of a back-to-back. We’re about to find out if the seventh seed, and a best-of-seven- series with the Raptors, is something the Magic truly want.