There will be those who say this is the most important game on the Magic’s schedule. There will be those who say it’s the difference of a few measly percentage points in a luck-of-the-draw lottery.
No matter which side of the tanking fence you are on, there’s no denying that if the Magic defeat the Timberwolves on Sunday, they will have little to no chance of finishing in the bottom three, thus losing the best chance at the top overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
The Magic enter the game with a record of 21-46, sitting one game ahead of the the Wolves, who have the league’s third-worst record at 20-47.
The bottom three teams each have a 14 percent chance of landing the top overall pick. The fourth worst team has a 12.5 percent chance, fifth worst has a 10.5 percent chance, and sixth worse has a 9 percent chance. The team with the third worst record can fall no further than seventh, whereas the team with the sixth worst record has a chance, minimal as it is, of dropping to 10th.
With the Magic also battling for positioning with the Cavs and Thunder, all options remain possible.
Magic: vs. Wolves, @ Bucks, @ Hawks, @ Sixers, @ Sixers
Cavs: vs. Mavs, vs. Pacers, vs. Celtics, @ Wizards, @ Nets
Thunder: @ Kings, @ Kings, vs. Jazz, vs. Clippers
Wolves: @ Magic, @ Pistons, vs. Nuggets, vs. Celtics, vs. Mavs
Pistons: vs. Bulls, vs. Wolves, vs. Nuggets, vs. Heat
Rockets: @ Blazers, @ Lakers, vs. Clippers, @ Hawks
The Magic, after winning three of four games, have lost their last two. They again could be without Wendell Carter Jr., Chuma Okeke, Terrence Ross, James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams and Otto Porter Jr. Those absences have created opportunity for 10-day contract signees who seem to appear out of nowhere, but also for players like Mo Bamba and R.J. Hampton.
Bamba has become a nightly double-double threat, having first set a career high with 15 rebounds, then matching it the following game, then topping it with 18 the next. Over his last three games, Bamba is averaging 16.7 points, 16.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks while shooting 48.6 percent from the field (just 1-for-12 from three).
Hampton has scored in double figures in five straight games, averaging 15.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and just 1.4 turnovers while shooting .452/.357/.783.
The Wolves, of course, are a model example of how winning the draft lottery isn’t a cure-all for a losing franchise, even after nailing the pick. The Wolves won in 2015, when they had a 25 percent chance, and landed Karl-Anthony Towns. They won again last year, with a 14 percent chance, and landed Anthony Edwards. Edwards, in 31 games since the All-Star break, is averaging 23.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three. And he’s 19 years old.
Yet, the Wolves are right back in the same position, hoping for the lucky bounce of a ping pong ball. And they have more incentive to tank than any other team, given the fact that their protected pick goes to the Warriors if it falls outside of the top-three.
The Magic defeated Minnesota, 97-96, in January on what was arguably the team’s best highlight of the season...
If that same kind of shot is in the air this time around, few in Orlando will want to see it go in.
Who: Orlando Magic (21-46) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-47)
When: Sunday at 7 p.m.
Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida
TV: Bally Sports Florida