Orlando Magic at Dallas Mavericks: Game Preview

Terrence Ross
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- Disappointed in their energy and effort despite being shorthanded, the Orlando Magic will quickly look to turn the page on a tough loss in Houston when they close out their Texas two-step on Saturday in Dallas against the Mavericks at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Left with just one healthy member of an optimal starting lineup of Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and Nikola Vucevic, Orlando is well aware that it was going to be tough to pull off a victory in Houston on Friday.

However, it wasn’t a talent disparity that had its head coach fuming after the contest. Instead, it was the lack of effort from players who’ve made their stamp in this league and on this team with hustle and hi-energy output.

“This game had a lot more to do with lack of readiness, and a lack of professionalism, and a lack of effort than it did talent,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said. “I’m not saying we would have won, but we had a lot of effort players who made no effort. Mistake after mistake after mistake, and we (are not) beating anybody like that. We’ve been a good effort team all year. I don’t expect it to happen again. But that’s your story. Nothing else mattered.”

It was a surprising display for a Magic team that entered the contest with an opportunity to get out to a 7-2 start for just the fifth time in franchise history. Those hopes quickly evaporated as an Orlando team that came into the contest allowing a league-low 10.1 threes per game watched as Houston drained 22 triples, third most in the NBA this season, on the night.

“We didn’t play Orlando Magic basketball tonight,” Khem Birch explained. “The team kind of gave in. A lot of our heads were down, including me, in the first half, the first quarter, and you just can’t have that type of attitude, especially when you have a lot of key guys out.”

While the Magic would certainly like some time in between contests to review the film, get in much-needed practice time and get players healthy, the positive side of such a swift turnaround is that they’ll almost immediately be able to get the taste of that contest out of their mouths if they’re able to respond well.

“A lot of things that we did (wrong against the Rockets), where we made mistakes, are things we are usually really good at,” Vucevic explained. “I think guys will respond the right way. We always have in the past. When we’ve had tough games, we’ve always come back with a much better response.”

IN AND OUT: The Magic are hopeful that some help is on the way in Dallas. Gordon was held out of the prior contest due to left hamstring injury management and is expected to play against the Mavericks.

Fournier (back spasms), however, has been ruled out.

Mo Bamba suffered a mild back strain in the fourth quarter against Houston, after putting up 12 points in the final frame. He's listed as probable on the team's injury report.

Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee rehabilitation), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left foot), Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Chuma Okeke (left knee bone bruise) and Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) are all out.

Dallas is hoping for the return of Trey Burke, who missed its game against the Denver Nuggets with an illness that was not believed to be COVID-19 related. However, Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Richardson are listed as out because of health and safety protocols.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You’ll see when Aaron comes back, we’re going to initiate some offense with him. We’ll have a point guard on the floor, but we’re going to run more things with him as a primary ballhandler and initiator. We’ve always played through Vooch a lot. We had really good success last year in the bubble when we started a lot of offense with him, so those are both good options. And, actually, the other thing I hope we can get to eventually is in college at (University of North) Carolina, (Head Coach) Roy Williams ran some things for Cole (Anthony) getting the ball out of his hands and then bringing him back off staggers and some screening actions similar to what (Terrence) Ross and Evan do, which he’s very good at.” – Clifford on how to ease the burden placed on Anthony, who as a rookie has been thrust into a starting role due to Fultz’s injury.

RIVALS REPORT: The Mavericks present a number of challenges, but the heart and soul of their squad resides in rising superstar Luka Doncic.

Averaging nearly a triple-double this season, Doncic is top six in the league in both points (27.6) and assists (8.0) to go along with 9.0 rebounds per game.

His usage percentage (37.5) and player impact estimate (20.6) both rank first in the NBA.

“He’s going to calculate situations, he’s going to make sure the ball’s in the right place at the right time,” said Dallas Head Coach Rick Carlisle via Mavs.com. “He’s doing a good job of sharing the ball at the right times, but also getting the ball in the basket.”

Tim Hardaway Jr. is off to an impressive start as well, averaging 16.3 points per game, while shooting 40.3 percent from distance.

Dallas will also feel the impact of player absences as Richardson, Brunson, and Finney-Smith – who as mentioned are sidelined due to health and safety protocols – are third, fourth, and fifth, respectively, in scoring for the Mavericks.

That could mean more playing time for former Magic swingman Wes Iwundu, who signed with Dallas this offseason. The Kansas State alum has appeared in four games for the Mavs this season, averaging 3.5 points per contest.

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