Paolo Banchero

Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves: Game Preview

Dan Savage
Director of Digital News

All season long, the Orlando Magic have been at their best when they’ve let their defense fuel their offense. 

That tenet held true in Philadelphia as the Magic opened up their four-game road trip with two straight quality defensive outings against the Sixers and recorded a series split with the Eastern Conference powerhouse. After notching a win in the first affair, Orlando dropped a close contest in the second. It was an impressive defensive effort, considering the Magic were able to keep it tight on a night where head coach Jamahl Mosley said his team “couldn’t throw it in the ocean.” 

Now, the Magic (20-32) will look to put forth a more balanced effort against the Minnesota Timberwolves (28-26), who’ve won six of their last eight games, on Friday at 8 p.m. ET. 

“(Defense) has got to be our identity,” said Magic point guard Markelle Fultz. “So, I definitely think it’s a confidence booster knowing that we defended a team like (the Sixers) and held them to a certain amount of points. Now, it’s up to our offense to do the same as our defense.” 

Orlando will need that type of balanced attack to put up points against a Minnesota squad that has recently emerged as one of the league’s best defensive teams. Over their last eight games, the Timberwolves possess the NBA’s second-best defensive rating at 106.9.  

The Wolves have made the most of their time in their den. Since the start of the new calendar year, Minnesota is a stellar 10-2 (.833) at Target Center, tied with the Denver Nuggets for the most home victories in the association during that stretch. 

Offensively, the Wolves are led by guard Anthony Edwards, who will surely be out to prove that he was one of the league’s biggest All-Star snubs. Over the last eight games, he’s averaging 31.8 points (sixth most in the NBA over that stretch), 6.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.1 blocks per contest. 

On the season, Edwards is just one of five players in NBA history 21 years old or younger to average at least 23 points, six rebounds and four assists, joining Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, and Michael Jordan. 

“We understand how we have to play,” said Mosley. “I think these guys get it. I think we have to make sure that we continue to play with that level of intensity, that sense of urgency, and hang our hat on the defensive end of the floor.” 

IN AND OUT: For Orlando, only Chuma Okeke (left knee surgery) is listed as out. 

For Minnesota, Bryn Forbes (right ankle sprain), Rudy Gobert (right groin soreness), and Taurean Prince (left ankle sprain) are questionable. Jordan McLaughlin (left calf strain) and Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain) are out. 

KEY STAT: Magic forward Paolo Banchero was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January. 

After also receiving the award in December, Banchero becomes just the third player in Magic history to receive the honor in back-to-back months, joining Shaquille O’Neal and Mike Miller. 

“It’s always special to get any accolade in this league,” Banchero explained. “It’s the best of the best. So, to be honored as the best rookie of the month is always an honor. I think it was a good month for the team, an up-and-down month for myself, but I feel like I finished strong. Looking forward to starting up February and getting some wins.” 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “A lot of great memories in this gym,” an appreciative Suggs said. “A lot of great games, practices. Family and friends all are here, and this night is above all of it. To have everybody come back, be here for me – it’s a product of everything they’ve done for me. Their love, their support, they’ve been with me every step of the way – (not just) as a basketball player, football player, but as a human. I got to come here every day and just be Jalen … Just be me, and that’s how they treated me. It’s a special night.” – Suggs, who had his basketball and football jerseys retired at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Thursday 

HOW TO WATCH: Watch the game on Bally Sports Florida or tune in on radio via FM 96.9 The Game.