The Magic, what’s left of them anyway, begin what is arguably their toughest stretch of the first-half schedule.
It all begins Friday night in Houston, where a Magic team without Aaron Gordon, Markelle Fultz, Michael Carter-Williams, Chuma Okeke, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jonathan Isaac, possibly Evan Fournier, and for all intents and purposes, Mo Bamba, will take on the Rockets.
Despite having more rotation players injured than active, this Magic team has a chance to improve to 7-2, which would tie a franchise record for best start to a season.
The @OrlandoMagic have opened the season 6-2. Orlando has started 6-2 six other times (last 2017-18).— Orlando Magic PR (@Magic_PR) January 8, 2021
The Magic have a chance to tie the team’s best all-time start after nine games (7-2) with a win tonight at Houston.
To do so, they’ll have to defeat a 2-4 Rockets team that is yet to field a full roster of their own, most notably being the recent absence of center Christian Wood. Injuries have combined with the uncertainty and trade rumors circulating around James Harden, as well as the incorporation of a big-name player in John Wall, making for a disappointing start.
Steve Clifford, though, praised Wall when speaking to reporters on Thursday, saying he “looks good, really good actually,” highlighting his ability in the open court and when getting to the basket or passing off the dribble. It will be a true “Welcome to the NBA” assignment for rookie point guard Cole Anthony as he makes his first NBA start, taking over for Fultz, who tore his ACL on Thursday. Much more on Anthony’s first start here.
The Rockets also feature another former All-Star trying to regain his form after battling injury in DeMarcus Cousins, who filled in for Wood in Houston’s loss to the Pacers on Wednesday, posting 9 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks.
“When he’s on the floor, they’re five out,” Clifford said.
Clifford also praised new-addition David Nwaba, who can stretch the floor, though he is hitting just 25% of his three-point attempts so far this season, and Eric Gordon, who is averaging nearly 20 points a game this season and was referred to as the Rockets’ X-factor by Clifford.
The Magic have won all three of their road games this season, albeit against the likes of Washington and Oklahoma City. When they take the court in Houston, they may do so with only one starter who was slated to begin the season in the first unit: Nikola Vucevic. Without Gordon (who is out due to left hamstring injury management) and possibly Fournier (back spasms), and with James Ennis still on a minutes restriction after making his debut on Wednesday, Clifford will have a decision to make for the final spot in the Magic starting five (assuming Gary Clark gets a second straight start).
One of those players will be tasked with slowing Harden, who is averaging 29.4 points on the season but, over his last three games, has shot just 36.4% from the field (20-for-55).
It’s going to be a challenging game for the shorthanded Magic, who enter as 6.5-point underdogs.
Who: Orlando Magic (6-2) at Houston Rockets (2-4)
When: Friday at 8 p.m.
Where: Toyota Center - Houston, Texas
TV: Fox Sports Florida