Orlando Magic vs. Dallas Mavericks: Game Preview

Dwayne Bacon
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic have two more opportunities to build momentum heading into the NBA All-Star break.

The first of those chances comes on Monday, when the Magic (13-21) host the Dallas Mavericks (16-16) at 7 p.m. ET.

While the Magic have put forth some staunch defensive efforts over the last two weeks, their offensive struggles have made it difficult to string together wins. After notching three straight victories, and taking four of five outings, Orlando has dropped three consecutive contests.

“We need to split or win two here, so that we don’t build ourselves too big of a hole coming back,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford explained. “The second half (of the season) is going to be unique to every team, every player, every coach. … The schedules are condensed, to be nice, for us the travel is brutal, there’s very little practice time with the rules that they’ve given us, and it’s going to be who can hang in their mentally. So, the better we can do these last two games, it’s important for our team.”

Since Feb. 12 – a stretch where Orlando is 4-4 – the Magic possess a top 10 defensive rating (109.7), but hold the league’s second-worst offensive rating (105.0). A huge factor in that is the team’s shooting percentage as they’ve shot just 43.7 percent from the floor over that span.

“We definitely can get better shots, but we just have to play within the offense and play through our key players,” Magic shooting guard Dwayne Bacon said. “We can get a little bit better shots, and that’s probably the key tonight, just to come in and play hard on the defensive end and on the offensive end, move them.”

One of those key players that Orlando can play through is All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. He’s scored at least 28 points in four of the Magic’s last five games, while also notching 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists.

“The most important key is to play through our All-Star,” Bacon added. “You look at the games where we play the best, (it’s when) we play through him. He’s going to make the right pass. He’s going to make the right play.”

In the Magic’s prior meeting with the Mavericks this season, Orlando fell 112-98 in Dallas. While superstar Luke Doncic notched a triple-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists – and will certainly once again be a focal point of the Magic’s defensive schemes – the team must do a better job of containing role players Tim Hardaway Jr. (36 points) and Trey Burke (29 points), who delivered performances far above their season averages.

“We have a plan to try and slow (Doncic) down, but at the end of the day, he’s still a very good player, and he’s probably going to see from us what numerous other teams have done throughout games (in his career),” Bacon said. “So, the goal is to slow down those other players. You look at the first game where we played them and you’ve got a guy like Tim Hardaway, who’s very capable and had thirty-six (points) on us. We were in the game, but we can’t let Tim Hardaway have thirty-six and Trey Burke have (twenty-nine) along with whatever Luka had and try to win that game.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “That’s really the plan. Coming back off of two wins (prior) to the All-Star break and coming back where we left off at, I feel like that will give us an extra boost and put us in a better position to play some more meaningful games later on in the season. These two games are very important.” – Magic rookie forward Chuma Okeke on trying to build momentum heading into the All-Star break.

KEY STAT: Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. The Magic are 12-8 this season when they score at least 100 points, they’re an impressive 8-2 this season when they score 110-plus points, and undefeated at 5-0 when they reach the 120-point plateau. However, in games where Orlando fails to reach 100 points, they’re just 1-13.

INJURY UPDATE: The Magic will be without Cole Anthony (non-displaced fracture, right rib), Aaron Gordon (left ankle sprain), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), James Ennis III (sore left calf), and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation). Karim Mane (G League/two-way) is not available.

For the Mavs, Kristaps Porzingis (lower back tightness) is probable, while Tyler Bey, Josh Green, Nate Hinton, and Tyrell Terry are all on G League assignment and will not be available.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Dallas Mavericks writer Isaac Harris, who covers the team for Mavs.com. He was kind enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Mavs.

Savage: “Luka Doncic has hit another gear during this stretch where the Mavericks have won seven of their last nine games. What’s stood out about his play and what have you seen from the Dallas superstar this season?”

Harris: “It’s been in two phases. Luka, like a lot of players, came into the season thinking that the season was going to start later on in the year. It kind of crept up on him and that also factored into KP (Porzingis) having the surgery that he did, the timing of it. So, Luka kind of started off a little bit slower, just playing himself into shape. He acknowledged that, he admitted that. But now, over these past few weeks, we’ve seen Luka be back to normal Luka. It’s crazy that we call it normal Luka in year three of his career. I think the biggest thing, I wrote about this for Mavs.com about a month or so ago, is just his leadership. At twenty-two, the fact that he is already the leader of this team both on the court and off the court speaks volumes to who he is as a player. He’s built a chemistry with the team and he’s connecting with the guys. That kind of started during the bubble in Orlando, getting the guys together and building that team chemistry. We saw the fun videos and stuff. I think the biggest thing for him, not just his on-court play and the level that he’s at, but his leadership and how he’s leaned into that leadership role on a really young Mavericks team. There’s only two guys over the age of thirty on this team.”

Savage: “As you look at this nine-game stretch that we’re talking about, what other players have stepped up and assisted Luka and the team?”

Harris: “I can’t hype up Jalen Brunson enough. Jalen Brunson – I said this last week and I stand by it now – I think he’s been the second-best Maverick on this team this season. You have Porzingis, who is a max-level guy, and the next star alongside Luka, and then you have a guy like Tim Hardaway Jr., who is shooting the ball very, very well. But, overall, the collective package that Jalen Brunson has brought to this team, it’s been so vital to them winning seven out of their last nine. His playmaking alongside Luka has taken strides. He’s gotten better defensively. He’s hovering around the fifty-forty-ninety this season. Incredible season by him and because of that, the Mavericks are a better team.”

Savage: “If you’re this Orlando Magic team, what are some of the areas you’re trying to exploit and where have you seen some other teams have success against Dallas?"

Harris: “One thing that Orlando is really good at, if I’m not mistaken, they’re a top-five rebounding team. I would say that the rebounding matchup is huge, especially tonight. Especially with a good rebounding team like Orlando, Dallas is towards the bottom – I think twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth in rebounding. Exploiting that, taking advantage of that if you’re Orlando, the second-chance points, those offensive rebounds. Also, I’m curious to see how they guard Luka. We’ve seen a handful of teams this season do the early trap on Luka and get the ball out of his hands. They say we’re going to dare guys like Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway, and Maxi Kleber, dare these guys to shoot the basketball and hit their open threes. We’ve seen teams kind of do that Philly-trap on Luka high across midcourt. Sometimes it’s worked. Hey, you have to choose. You’re either going to give Luka his points and let him have it and try to take out everyone else or try to (limit) Luka and make the other guys beat you at the same time.”

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