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Magic vs. Jazz preview: Magic take on the league’s best team

The Magic have dropped two straight games. The Jazz have won 22 of their last 25.

Utah Jazz v Orlando Magic Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images

The Magic go from taking on the league’s hottest team to the league’s best team.

Fresh off an ugly loss to the Nets on Thursday, the Magic now take on a Jazz team that is off to a 26-7 start, giving them the best record in the league and best start in franchise history.

The Jazz actually are coming off a rare loss, after falling 124-116 to the Heat on Friday in Miami. So the Magic get them on the second night of a back-to-back and they’ll look to hand Utah what would be their first back-to-back loss since early January, the only time this season that the Jazz suffered two consecutive losses.

Since then, the Jazz have won 22 of 25 games. They are the only team in the league that sits in the top five in both offensive rating (116.6, 4th best) and defensive rating (107.3, 2nd best), giving them a league-best net rating of 9.3 (a decent-sized cushion ahead of the second-place team, the Bucks at 7.8).

The Jazz, with a newfound chemistry within their All-Star backcourt of Donovan Mitchell (named an All-Star) and Mike Conley (All-Star snub), are simply outshooting their opponents. When it comes to three-pointers, the Jazz take (42.7) and make (16.9) more than any team in the league, connecting on 39.6 percent of their attempts from deep (3rd best).

Contributing to that is Rudy Gobert...yes the Rudy Gobert who has never attempted a three in his career. His impact is felt simply by his presence and his status as a high-screen-setting lob threat that causes defenders to collapse inside and leave the perimeter shooters open. The Jazz - particularly with Conley’s ability to move the ball and find the open man, although Conley won’t play against the Magic - take advantage. And when they do miss, there’s a decent chance they’ll be grabbing the rebound, with the Jazz averaging 11 offensive rebounds per, which is fourth most in the league.

At the other end, Utah is limiting their opponents’ ability to shoot from deep, holding teams to a 35 percent shooting from three, which is fourth best in the NBA, on just 31.3 attempts per, which is the second fewest in the league.

The formula is simple: take a lot more three-pointers than your opponent.

Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson each take over eight attempts per game. Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic each take over six attempts per game. Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale each take over four per game. Add it all up and the Jazz have launched 1,410 three-pointers this season. Their opponents have attempted 1,034 against them. That’s a large margin.

For an in-depth breakdown of the historic rate at which the Utah Jazz are outshooting their opponents, read this story by our friends at SLC Dunk.

The Jazz, with the All-Star Gobert as the anchor in the middle, are holding opponents to 44.3 percent shooting overall (3rd best), while allowing the fewest assists per game (21.8) and second-fewest defensive rebounds per game (32.1).

That’s all bad news for a Magic team that struggles with their three-point shooting even when a team isn’t desperately trying to prevent them from taking any. That’s been particularly true over their two most recent, lopsided defeats in which the Magic combined to shoot just 31 percent from three. That, combined with Orlando turning the ball over far too much, has led to two of their uglier losses of the season.

The Magic will also be down another starter, with James Ennis out with a sore calf. Ennis had been averaging 10.2 points over his last 10 games.

The focus of course will be on the battle of All-Star centers with Gobert looking to contain Nikola Vucevic. Vooch struggled in two Magic losses to the Jazz last season, being held to 17 points per on 38.2 percent shooting.

Some good news is that Mo Bamba should be getting extended minute from here on out, just as he did in the loss against Brooklyn, where he received 13 minutes compared to Khem Birch’s six.

“We’re gonna do it like that, I’m going to try to keep everybody in rhythm as best that we can,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the game on Thursday. “Mo needs the time, cause you can see obviously his conditioning level is still, through no fault of his own, but he’s missed so much time that he needs to be out there. And that’s how we’re gonna do it.”

Bamba was all smiles after he was asked by Josh Robbins about getting regular playing time...

The Magic, three games out of the eighth spot and four games out of the East’s worst record, kick off a three-game homestand to wrap up the season’s first-half. Following the Jazz game they’ll have matchups against the Mavs and Hawks.

Who: Orlando Magic (13-20) vs. Utah Jazz (26-7)

When: Saturday at 8 p.m.

Where: Amway Center - Orlando Florida

TV: Fox Sports Florida