Orlando Magic vs. Brooklyn Nets: Game Preview

Nikola Vucevic
by Dan Savage

Date: Friday, July 31, 2020

Time: 2:30 p.m. ET

Location: HP FIELD HOUSE, Orlando, FL

TV: FOX Sports Florida

Mobile: FOX Sports GO

Radio: 96.9 FM the Game / 98.1 SALSA Y MAS

ORLANDO -- Unique. That word applies to a number of circumstances regarding the Orlando Magic’s opening seeding matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.

Just a short time ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that such a critical NBA game would take place between two teams after a four-month-plus layoff, several weeks of practice and three scrimmage contests. But in a world heavily altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, here we are.

With Orlando (30-35) trailing Brooklyn (30-34) by just 0.5 game for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, it’s possible that this is one of the Magic’s most important matchups of their entire regular season.

“For our team and for Brooklyn, it’s the same thing, these are the equivalent of a playoff game, these eight games,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said. “We badly want to get to seventh, because we don’t want the possibility of a play-in. We played our way into the playoffs during the 65 games and we want to be a playoff team.”

As Clifford mentioned, there could be stark differences between being eighth and seventh in a conference. For one, the powerhouse Milwaukee Bucks, who swept the Magic in their four regular season meetings this season, likely await the eighth seed in the East. Secondly, a team in that spot could have to earn its way in via a play-in tournament.

If the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, no play-in tournament will be necessary. The final playoff berth will simply go to the team with the eighth best record (regular-season games + seeding games). But if the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, then there will be a battle for the final spot between those two squads. The tournament will essentially be a best-of-two series – where the No. 9 seed will have to win two head-to-head matchups to take over the No. 8 spot.

The Magic are currently 5.5 games ahead of the Washington Wizards (24-40), who currently reside ninth in the East. Orlando completed a four-game sweep of Washington in their regular season meetings and is 2-0 against Brooklyn thus far. Normally, those could prove to be valuable tiebreakers for the Magic, but under these circumstances where both the Wizards and Nets will finish the regular season having played one game less than Orlando, no tie-breaking scenarios are possible.

It makes each and every seeding game, especially those against the Nets, all more substantial.

“We feel like we’re in a good place,” Nikola Vucevic said. “We’re prepared, we’re motivated, and I’m sure Brooklyn is as well.”

“Hopefully we can be the ones more ready, be ready from the jump ball, and have a great game because it would be a huge win for us.”

In and Out: Clifford will meet with Magic High Performance Director David Tenney to go over potential minute restrictions for players on Thursday. However, the only player on their roster at the NBA campus that Orlando will potentially be without is Wes Iwundu (concussion protocol).

Rivals Report: When talking about uniqueness of situations, fewer teams have more challenging circumstances in ramping up for the NBA campus than the Brooklyn Nets.

After parting ways with head coach Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn had just two games under interim head coach Jacque Vaughn – both wins – before the season hit pause.

As if adjusting to a new head coach in this situation wouldn’t be enough of a challenge, the Nets also are attempting to get a roster to gel that’s had plenty of alterations since the hiatus. With Kevin Durant (Achilles) and Kyrie Irving (shoulder) already out for the season, Wilson Chandler opting out of the restart, and Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince not participating following positive COVID-19 tests (prior to coming to the campus), Brooklyn added Justin Anderson, Jamal Crawford, Donta Hall, Tyler Johnson and Lance Thomas to their roster.

That’s more turnover than some franchises face in an entire offseason.

With all of those adjustments, expect three of the Nets familiar faces to carry the workload against the Magic. Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris were the only Brooklyn players to play over 29 minutes in the team’s final scrimmage and they’ll likely be focal points of the Nets’ offensive attack. LeVert, now the team’s No. 1 offensive option, averaged 27.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, six assists and one steal per game in Brooklyn’s last five contests before the break.

Be the Change: The Magic have made no secret from the second they arrived on the NBA campus in t-shirts that read, “GET OFF THE BENCH, GET INTO THE GAME, VOTE,” that they intend to use the restart platform to amplify their voices on social injustice. The team took another step towards that goal when they announced via video the phrases and words players selected for their jerseys for the restart:

D.J. Augustin: Equality

Mo Bamba: Black Lives Matter

Michael Carter-Williams: Liberation

Gary Clark: Respect Us

James Ennis: Justice Now

Evan Fournier: Justice

Melvin Frazier Jr.: Equality

Markelle Fultz: Respect Us

Aaron Gordon: Freedom

BJ Johnson: How Many More

Vic Law: Anti-Racist

Nikola Vucevic: Equality

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