The suddenly surging Magic get their ultimate test on Saturday night.
They’ve managed to beat the Clippers and the Pelicans in impressive fashion, but both teams were missing multiple starters. Now comes an assignment that is as challenging as it gets when they take on the league’s best Utah Jazz at full strength (we think at least, it will be the second night of a back-to-back for the Jazz so we’ll see what happens).
The Jazz, on an eight -game winning streak following Friday’s win over the Bulls, sit atop the league with a 36-11 record, and they’ve been nearly unbeatable on their home court where they are 20-2. Actually, they haven’t lost at home since the calendar flipped to the year 2021, winning 21 straight since dropping their first two home games of the season.
So, the new-look Magic will be facing the most difficult team to beat in the most difficult place to play.
Only one team in the league is in the top five for both offensive and defensive rating: the Utah Jazz. They own the fourth best offensive rating at 116.7 points per 100 possessions and the third best defensive rating at 107.6 points per. No other team in the league ranks even in the top ten of both categories.
The Jazz have managed to dominate at both ends by taking and making more three-point attempts than their opponents. Do that successfully, and it certainly adds up. Utah makes 17 threes per game on 42.9 attempts, both of which lead the league and combine for a 39.6 shooting percentage from deep, which is second best in the league behind the Clippers.
The Jazz have three regulars shooting over 40 percent from three: Joe Ingles (48.7% on 5.5 attempts per), Mike Conley (41.5% on 6.5 attempts) and Royce O’Neale (41.3% on 4.0 attempts). They have three more shooting over 38 percent: Donovan Mitchell (39.9% on 8.6 attempts), Georges Niang (39.6% on 3.3 attempts) and Bojan Bogdanovic (38.6% on 6.3 attempts). And that’s not even including the player who launches more threes per game than any other on the roster: Jordan Clarkson, who is taking 8.7 attempts per game and connecting at a 34.9% clip.
Rudy Gobert helps generate a lot of open looks for his teammates simply by serving as a lob threat when he rolls to the basket and defenses collapse around him, and that helps put him in position to fight for offensive rebounds, which the Jazz grab plenty off (11.0 per, third most).
At the other end of the court, Gobert anchors a defense that holds opponents to 44.7 percent shooting (third best in the league), while limiting teams to the fewest three-point makes (10.6) and attempts per game (30.7).
The Magic didn’t need their three-point shot to defeat the Pelicans on Thursday, making just 5 of 25 attempts in their overtime victory. It was newcomer Wendell Carter Jr. who helped power them to victory, recording 21 points and 12 rebounds for his first double-double with the Magic. With Khem Birch exiting Thursday’s game due to illness, Carter could be in line for his first start with the Magic on Saturday.
Orlando, after winning two straight are now tied with the Cavs for the fourth worst record in the NBA, but still sit just three games behind the Bulls for the 10th spot, which would land them in the play-in tournament. Saturday’s matchup with the Jazz will be the fourth game of a five-game West Coast road trip, which concludes on Sunday against the Nuggets for a reunion with Aaron Gordon.
Who: Orlando Magic (17-31) at Utah Jazz (36-11)
When: Saturday at 9 p.m.
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena - Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: Bally Sports Florida