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Magic vs. Suns preview: Magic road trip ends with tough matchup vs. rising Suns

The shorthanded Magic take on a Suns team that has won 8 of 9 games

Orlando Magic v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The Magic’s four-game West Coast trip finally comes to an end on Sunday. How many players will be in an Orlando uniform for the game once again remains a mystery.

This time those listed as questionable include Evan Fournier (back spasms), Cole Anthony (shoulder strain), James Ennis (groin strain) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee injury management). Already ruled out are Frank Mason (groin strain), in addition to the usual names on an extended absence.

The Magic once again will have a point guard, which isn’t always a guarantee of late, with Michael Carter-Williams getting the starting nod after his triumphant return that helped propel the Magic to a win over the Kings on Friday. MCW, after missing 19 games, had 21 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds, while going above and beyond his minutes restriction.

He’ll play opposite one of the league’s elite point guards in Chris Paul, who has helped the Suns take their next step in the rise towards contention. Paul is averaging 16.9 points and 8.2 assists for the 16-9 Suns, who sit fourth in the West after having won eight of their last nine games. Still, we haven’t yet seen the Suns at their best as their new backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker continue to mesh and play off one another, with Booker averaging 24.4 points on 48.8% shooting this season.

The two guided the Suns to a win over the East-leading 76ers on Saturday behind Booker’s 36 points and CP3’s double-double of 18 points and 10 assists. They now complete the back-to-back with a Valentine’s Night showdown with the Magic.

(Side note: it will be the 14th time in Orlando Magic franchise history that they play on Valentine’s Day, posting a 7-6 record on Feb. 14.)

The Suns go from facing one dominant center to another. They were able to overcome Joel Embiid’s 35 points on Saturday, and will look to contain Nikola Vucevic, who is coming off a 42-point performance on 17-for-22 shooting, which included a career-high six three-pointers. He’ll play opposite Deandre Ayton, who in his third season (the top overall pick in 2018, a.k.a. the Mo Bamba draft), is averaging 14.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in 32.1 minutes per game.

The Suns have been going with the rare dual seven-footer starting lineup of late, with the 7-foot Frank Kaminsky playing alongside the 6-11 Ayton in the frontcourt. Since inserting Kaminsky into the first unit, the Suns have won five straight games. During that stretch the Suns have improved their chemistry, posting the sixth best offensive rating of 120.9 during the winning streak.

Overall, they play at a slower pace than all but one team (the Knicks) with a pace of 94.0 possessions, and get to the line fewer times per game than all (18.7 attempts per), but boast a top-10 true shooting percentage at 58.1% (9th).

Phoenix enters with the NBA’s sixth best defensive rating at 109.0 points per 100 possessions, limiting opponents from the perimeter (11.1 makes per game, second fewest) and allowing a league-low 22.1 assists per game.

The Magic have shown tremendous effort in their last two games while playing with what has essentially been a league-minimum number of players. They may very well hit the minimum again on Sunday, and be forced to replace another starter, if none of their questionable players are able to suit up. The win on Friday was just their fourth over the last 19 games, and they close out their Western swing with what is the toughest game of the trip.

Who: Orlando Magic (10-17) at Phoenix Suns (16-9)

When: Sunday at 9 p.m.

Where: PHX Arena - Phoenix, Arizona

TV: Fox Sports Florida