Orlando Magic at Brooklyn Nets: Game Preview

Franz Wagner
by Dan Savage

The state of New York has been kind to the Orlando Magic to tip off their 2021-22 NBA campaign.

The Magic have recorded a pair of thrilling victories over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden where they’ve looked much more like a polished veteran squad than the youthful unit that, as expected, has had up-and-down moments to start the season.

Now, Orlando (4-11) hopes its luck in the Big Apple translates to the borough of Brooklyn when it pays a visit to the Nets (11-5) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

“I think (that win over the Knicks) was great for our momentum,” said rookie Jalen Suggs, who scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter of that victory. “We’re all together and we’re able to take that win and be happy about it, go back to the lab, work on some things that we needed to shore up (from Wednesday) and just continue to build and continue to grow.”

In order to pull off a win in Brooklyn, the Magic will need to do a better job of containing the Nets’ two-headed monster of Kevin Durant and James Harden.

In their meeting with Brooklyn at Amway Center a little over a week ago, Durant erupted for a game-high 30 points on an efficient 11-for-12 shooting performance, while Harden stuffed the stat sheet, notching his third triple-double of the season. To limit that superstar pairing, they’ll need their rookie duo of Suggs and Franz Wagner to continue to bring forth their best defensive effort.

“It’s extremely special (for two rookies) to have that ability to compete and want to compete on that end of the floor,” said Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley. “Those guys are not concerned about the scoring side of it, they’re more concerned about how we can sit down and guard and lock-in to our half-court defense.”

The Magic hope that their win over the Knicks can fuel them for the remainder of their five-game road trip, which includes this stop in Brooklyn followed by two straight meetings with the defending champions, the Milwaukee Bucks.

“(Our win over the Knicks) was a step in the right direction,” said Mo Bamba, who currently ranks second in the NBA in blocks per game (2.2). “The Nets just beat Cleveland and I’m sure they’re going to come out just as hungry as us. But it’s a step in the right direction.”

KEY STAT: With Wednesday’s victory, Orlando won at New York for the second time this season, beating the Knicks, 104-98. It marks the first time since 2017-18 that the Magic recorded multiple triumphs at MSG during the same season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The team and the organization has done a great job of keeping confidence in me for the moments that I do get in my head or that it does dip a little bit. They always pick me right back up, tell me to keep going, and things like (Wednesday) night come along where the third quarter and fourth quarter, I felt as comfortable as I’ve felt the entire year. So, (Wednesday) was a whole lot of fun. Coming to Madison Square Garden and winning two times in about two to three weeks is big time. So, I’m proud of all the guys. Great team win. Just keep riding and just keep growing.” – Suggs on the support from the Magic and his teammates to start his rookie season in the league

IN AND OUT: Suggs (right quad contusion) is available, but Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), and E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) all remain out for Orlando.

For Brooklyn, Nic Claxton (non-COVID illness), David Duke Jr. (G League – Two-Way), Joe Harris (left ankle sprain), Kyrie Irving (ineligible to play) and Paul Millsap (personal reasons) are out. *Update: Durant (right shoulder sprain) was added to the Nets' injury report and is out tonight.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Brooklyn Nets beat writer Kristian Winfield, who covers the team for the New York Daily News. He was generous enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Nets.

Savage: “The Nets defeated the Magic at Amway Center last week. What were your big takeaways from that matchup?”

Winfield: “That was part of a stretch where the Nets had to handle business. The Magic are a rebuilding team that’s trying to figure themselves out in terms of talent and how that talent meshes with each other. So, the Nets were supposed to handle business there and they did. I do like Cole Anthony. He’s obviously from (New York) and he’s a great personality. I love just anything he says. It’s amazing. But to be honest, my biggest takeaway is that the Magic are couple years away (at the moment).”

Savage: “That stretch you mentioned, the Nets have won four of their last five since playing the Magic. What’s stood out to you over that run?”

Winfield: “The Nets have really improved on the defensive end this year, which is a must considering they don’t have Kyrie Irving. It goes to show you that (Nets General Manager) Sean Marks made some very key additions during the offseason, adding a guy like DeAndre' Bembry. That really gave a boost to the Nets defense. Paul Millsap has been out a little while, but he’s helped as well. And Patty Mills, I didn’t know how good of a defender Patty Mills was until he got here. Even for him to be undersized, he’s pretty active. The team is coming together in terms from a chemistry standpoint. You can see that growing. But a lot of those wins were against teams that they were supposed to beat. The record looks nice, but I wrote about this, the record is one thing, the resume is another. They went on that stretch (and) beat a bunch of teams that probably won’t make it out of the second round of the playoffs, if they make it to the second round of the playoffs. Right? So, it’s nice on paper, but I don’t think anyone is holding their heads too high or smelling themselves because of the Nets’ season so far.”

Savage: “Since we last spoke, any update to the Kyrie Irving situation?”

Winfield: “I think the only update to the Kyrie situation is kind of how the Nets have struggled against good teams without him. This is a team that was supposed to have three stars and they only have two. They are trying to figure out how to play around two, while other teams, specifically the championship-contending teams are learning how to play at full strength. Well, not even at full strength. The Warriors came to town with no Klay Thompson, no James Wiseman, and really beat the brakes off the Nets. That’s kind of been the case with these teams that are considered championship contenders. You lose to Milwaukee badly, you lose to Miami at home badly, (and) you lose to Chicago on the road – granted second game of a back-to-back, but you get pounded in the fourth quarter. And the Warriors come in and you have M-V-P chants for Steph Curry on your home floor. So, it’s tough. I think as the Nets continue to pile up losses to championship-caliber opponents, the spotlight on not having Kyrie is only going to intensify. Because that trade deadline, that’s finite. You pass the trade deadline with no Kyrie, and Kyrie decides he’s not coming back because he’s not getting vaccinated, you lose him for the entire year. There’s no way to get something for him (at that point). And there’s no way the Nets front office isn’t thinking about that. There’s no way they’re not looking at that trade deadline as a hard deadline for deciding what they want to do with him.”

You can read more about the Nets outlook on the season from our prior conversation on Nov. 10 here.

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