Magic Set to Play Home Games on Back-to-Back Nights For Second Straight Weekend
ORLANDO – Home/home back-to-back sets of games are a relatively new phenomenon in the NBA. Considering how they have helped give the Orlando Magic a soft place to land following rough stretches, they might want to consider keeping them around in the seasons to come.
For a third time this season, the Magic (19-25) will host home games on consecutive nights starting with Friday’s showdown against Brooklyn (23-23) and ending with Saturday’s rematch versus Milwaukee (32-12) and superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
For a second weekend in a row, the home/home back-to-back scenario comes at a time when the Magic badly need it. A week earlier, Orlando was coming off a grueling 11-day trip that it ended with four consecutive defeats. The Magic turned things around – if, but just briefly – with stirring come-from-behind defeats of the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets on consecutive nights at the Amway Center.
Now, on the heels of a frustrating 120-115 overtime loss in Detroit on Wednesday, the Magic are looking to another set of home games to help them get back on track. Not that it will be easy against a Brooklyn team that has won 15 of its last 20 and a Milwaukee squad that has taken turns with Toronto sitting atop the Eastern Conference all season.
``We’ve got to come back, throw this (loss to Detroit) away and worry about the next ones,’’ said Magic guard Terrence Ross, who had 24 points and a season-best six 3-pointers on Wednesday. ``It’s important that we move forward and make sure that we don’t let this slow us down. We have to play our way out of it.’’
Orlando’s loss in Detroit on Wednesday was something of a microcosm of its hot-and-cold nature all season. The Magic set season highs for their shooting in a quarter (75 percent in the first period) and in a half (67.5 percent) early on, but their defensive woes never allowed them to build much separation from the Pistons. Orlando rallied in the fourth quarter – just as it had done in the two previous games against Boston and Houston – and seemed to put itself in position to win. However, rebounding issues surfaced late in regulation and the bottom fell out of Orlando’s offense (two-of-12 shooting) in the overtime.
Magic forward Aaron Gordon said his team’s lack of attention to detail on the defensive end was the most frustrating aspect of the OT loss.
``We have to be a little more locked in because we were missing assignments all night long to a man,’’ Gordon said. ``We’ve got to be more locked in. We can’t get too frustrated about it, but at some point, we’ve got to make a stand where we’re locked in on defense every night. We have to know our coverages and where we need to be every time and we didn’t do that (on Wednesday in Detroit).’’
They will be trying to do it on Friday against Brooklyn, one of the NBA’s surprise teams thus far. Once 8-18, the Nets have won 15 of 20 to even their record at 23-23 and strengthen their spot in the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
Just as the Magic did, Brooklyn has won two straight by beating Boston and Houston. Point guard D’Angelo Russell, a candidate to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award already, battered the Celtics for 34 points on Monday night. On Wednesday, guard/forward Spencer Dinwiddie scored 25 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. He drilled three 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds of regulation and scored seven more points in OT for Brooklyn’s 145-142 win that spoiled James Harden’s season-best 58-point effort.
Orlando’s challenge will most likely prove even more difficult on Saturday when it tries to slow down Antetokounmpo, who had 27 points and 11 rebounds in Wednesday’s win over Memphis. The MVP candidate has become one of the NBA’s most lethal all-around weapons while averaging 26.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.5 blocks a game. He had just 21 points and seven rebounds on Oct. 27 against the Magic, but Milwaukee still built a big early lead and won with ease (113-91).
Orlando stalwarts Nikola Vucevic and Gordon said the team has to find a way to motivate itself in other ways than simply rebounding from losses. Three times this season, the Magic have lost four games in a row and each time they responded with impressive defeats of San Antonio, Toronto and Boston.
Now, Orlando will try and wash away the stink of Wednesday’s loss with another sweep of home games on consecutive nights. The Magic did that on Nov. 17-18 when they beat the Lakers and Knicks and they repeated the feat last weekend by edging the Celtics and Rockets. This challenge will be just as great this time around considering the quality of opponents.
``We could have had a chance to get one (Wednesday) and get three wins in a row going home,’’ lamented Vucevic, who uncharacteristically missed shots late in the game that could have won it or tied it. ``Now, we’ve got to regroup now and face a Brooklyn team that is fighting for the playoffs, too.’’
Added Gordon: ``We’ve got to go back to the crib and make a stand on our home floor. ``We’ll see if we can bounce back from this (Detroit loss).’’
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