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Magic vs. Nets preview: Another challenge for the Magic

The Magic face another of the league’s power duos in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

From Joel Embiid and James Harden one night, to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving the next. It has not been an easy week for the Orlando Magic defense.

Despite what the stat line suggests, the Magic fared well against the Sixers’ power duo during Sunday’s 116-114 overtime loss. Embiid shot just 9-for-28 from the field and Harden went just 5-for-19, but they got star treatment from officials and combined to go 28-for-32 from the free throw line to help the Sixers erase what had been a 17-point Orlando lead.

Now comes Durant and Irving, who last week became the first teammates in NBA history to have 50-point games over a three-game span.

Looking to contain them will be a Magic defense that has continued to post the league’s top defensive rating in their nine games since the All-Star break at 106.4 points. That has helped Orlando go 5-4 during that stretch, with two losses coming by one-possession to elite teams like the Sixers and Phoenix Suns.

“I think it’s extremely valuable,” Jamahl Mosley said after the Sixers game when asked about the Magic’s performance against an upper-echelon team. “Our guys are gaining execution experience, understanding what it’s like to play against a high-level playoff team. And these guys did a great job of executing down the stretch, finding the looks that you need and want.”

The Magic, who were 13-point underdogs against the Sixers before nearly stealing a win, enter their matchup against the Nets as 10-point underdogs.

For the Nets, who have won three straight to push their record back over .500, it’s one of the few times this season that Durant and Irving will have been on the court together. For Irving, who is still limited to playing only in road games due to New York’s COVID-19 private sector vaccine mandate, it will be one of only four games he is eligible to play in over the Nets’ final 14 regular season games.

That has created some recent off-the-court drama for the Nets and their two stars.

During the Nets’ 110-107 win over the Knicks at Barclays Center on Sunday, Irving was in the arena for the first home game this season, sitting in his family’s courtside seats with the public sector vaccine mandate having been dropped on March 7. The Nets were then fined $50,000 by the league for letting Irving enter the locker room during halftime.

Durant then had some strong words for New York mayor Eric Adams regarding the vaccine mandate.

“It’s ridiculous,” Durant said. “I don’t understand it at all. I don’t get it. It just feel like, at this point now, somebody’s trying to make a statement or point to flex their authority. Everybody out here is looking for attention. That’s what I feel like the mayor wants right now, some attention. He’ll figure it out soon. He better.”

If not, the Nets face the possibility of not having Irving during the play-in tournament. Brooklyn currently sits in the eighth spot, trailing Toronto by three games and the Cavs by four games.

The Magic defeated the Nets in December when both teams were ravaged by COVID and injury. Durant has missed two of three games against Orlando this season, while Irving has missed all three.

The Nets will be getting their first look this season at Markelle Fultz, albeit for only about the 18 minutes or so of playing time that he remains limited to. Fultz had eight points and 11 assists in just 19 minutes against the Sixers on Sunday, making a clear and immediate impact in his limited time on the court. Fultz enters averaging 10.0 points and 5.5 assists in 17.3 minutes per game, which translates to 20.8 points and 11.4 assists per 36 minutes.

Fultz, who also knocked down the only three he attempted in each of his last two games, has helped to increase the Magic’s tempo and generate quality looks and easy buckets with his ability to attack the basket and find cutters and the open man.

The Magic will be without Jalen Suggs due to a sprained ankle. Gary Harris is listed as questionable with a knee contusion. It was also announced on Tuesday that Jonathan Isaac will miss the remainder of the season.

The Nets will be without Joe Harris, LaMarcus Aldridge and the recently-acquired Ben Simmons. Seth Curry is listed as questionable.

After their matchup with the Nets, the Magic get a break in the schedule with home games against fellow draft lottery contenders, the 18-50 Pistons and 20-48 Thunder.

Who: Brooklyn Nets (35-33) at Orlando Magic (18-51)

When: Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida

TV: Bally Sports Florida

Line: Nets -10, Over/Under 231

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