Orlando Magic vs. Golden State Warriors: Game Preview

Nikola Vucevic
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic will attempt to notch back-to-back wins for the first time since early January when they host the Golden State Warriors on Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

Fresh off an impressive home victory over the New York Knicks where they played effectively on both ends of the floor, the Magic hope to build on a stretch where they’ve reverted back to their brand of basketball.

Since the arrival of head coach Steve Clifford, Orlando’s identity has been that of a staunch defensive team that's had its best offensive stretches when it moves the basketball and finds the open man.

“We definitely have to stick to that style of ball,” said Magic super sixth man Terrence Ross, who erupted for a season-high 30 points against the Knicks. “We have a way to play, inside-out, playing through (Nikola Vucevic, and) playing simple. We’ve just got to stick with it.”

Playing to the team’s strengths obviously becomes a more attainable task when they have more of their key players available. Against the Knicks, Evan Fournier and Al-Farouq Aminu both made returns from extended injuries and clearly gave a boost to a squad that was forced to play with only eight players and no healthy point guards for stretches of its West Coast trip.

“We have to win. Obviously, again, we’ve been dealing with injuries, so it’s been really hard to win consistently with only eight bodies available,” said Fournier, who tallied 19 points, three rebounds and three assists in his return. “As we get more and more players available, hopefully we can get a feel for how we want to play and how we’ve been playing in the past and just getting (wins).”

The Magic spent their practice session on Thursday focusing on team elements of their offense and defense that they hope to utilize against the Warriors. That time is especially valuable for rookie Chuma Okeke, recent addition Chasson Randle, and young players like Dwayne Bacon, who according to Clifford, is just scratching the surface of the type of player he can become in this league.

“(Practice) was very good,” Bacon said. “Everybody came in and we got what we needed to do done at a good level of intensity and we got ready for (the Warriors).”

INJURY UPDATE: Although he’s listed as questionable on the injury report, the Magic expect to have James Ennis III (right groin strain) back in the lineup against the Warriors.

“I think James is good, so we’re hopeful that as long as things go well (Friday) morning that he’ll be able to play (Friday) night, which will be great,” Clifford said.

Fournier (back spasms) is listed as probable, while Cole Anthony (non-displaced fracture, right rib) Aaron Gordon (left ankle sprain), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) are out. Karim Mane (G League/two-way) is not available.

KEY STATS: After pulling down a game-high 16 rebounds against the Knicks, Vucevic has now grabbed 15-plus boards in 80 career contests with six of them coming this season. Only Dwight Howard, who has a whopping 220 such games, and Shaquille O’Neal (92) have more in team history.

As OrlandoMagic.com’s Josh Cohen noted in his latest feature on Orlando’s defense, the Magic’s defensive rating when Michael Carter-Williams has been on the floor this year is a team-best 97.2. Perhaps even more impressive is that opponents have shot 29.4 percent from 3-point range when he’s been on the court. Those numbers will certainly be put to the test against Steph Curry, one of the greatest 3-point shooters of all-time.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I think he can become a terrific defender both individual and team. What’s happened, as you guys have seen, this last stretch of games has been more difficult because right now he’s a four-man. That’s more how he’s always played and because of the injuries, he’s been playing all at the three. To be honest, he’s done a remarkable job because he hasn’t even practiced at that position. So, he’s guarding quicker guys, guys who play off the dribble, and he had some good sequences (on Wednesday) of one-on-one defense and reads and help things. I think he can be both a very good individual defender and a terrific team defender.” – Clifford on Okeke.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Golden State Warriors beat writer Wes Goldberg, who covers the team for The Mercury News. He was kind enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Warriors.

Savage: “The Warriors took an overtime win over the Heat on Wednesday night. What did they show you in a gritty win over Miami?”

Goldberg: “I think grit is the right word to use there. This is a team that has not won three games in a row nor have they lost three games in a row all season. If it’s not for Steph Curry having an MVP-type performance, they tend to lose these games. So (on Wednesday), they found a way to win, which is something that’s been eluding them all year. They got big contributions from Kelly Oubre, Andrew Wiggins, and Kent Bazemore. Draymond Green was obviously a late scratch before the game with an ankle injury, but he’s expected to play Friday against the Magic. Based on all those things, the fact that they were injured, the fact that they were playing a tough Eastern Conference opponent, the fact that Steph Curry had an inefficient shooting night, and the fact that they had to come back from nineteen points down, made that their best win of the season and gives them a little bit of momentum heading into a four-game trip here across the East Coast that really could end up defining the first half of their season. Especially if they can string together a few wins and have a pretty impressive stretch that could ultimately give them a little bit of a cushion in the Western Conference as far as trying to avoid that play-in tournament. I think that would be what they’re trying to accomplish on this trip.”

Savage: “As you mentioned Draymond Green is expected to play. What are some of the biggest differences this season when he’s on the court versus off the court for this Warriors squad?”

Goldberg: “It really comes down to Steph Curry. With Draymond Green on the court, he has another playmaker, he can play off the ball, do all those things that we know Steph can do as far as using his gravity to attract attention and opening up lanes for his teammates and just finding cracks in the defense and getting open jumpers that way. So, when Draymond Green is not in the game – and this expands to the first four games of the season because he was sidelined for those – it’s really all Steph, all the time. He’s bringing the ball up himself, he’s pulling up from three-point range by himself, he doesn’t have nearly as much wiggle room to get open, and unlike in past years where they had Draymond Green, but they also had Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, all these guys you can really trust to run the offense, they don’t really have that guy this year. Andrew Wiggins does a little bit of that for them here and there. Brad Wanamaker is solid, but unspectacular. So, when Steph is out there without Draymond, he’s really forced to do everything on his own. With the way that defenses are keying in on him this year, double-teams, triple-teams, box-and-ones, all these kinds of defenses, it just makes it that much more difficult. He also doesn’t have Klay Thompson to help space the floor and attract attention either this year. So, that’s the biggest difference. When Draymond is there, he’s been so much of a point forward for them and a point center over these last seven games that it opens up the floor for not only Steph, but because the floor is opened up for Steph, it opens up the floor for all of his teammates. The offense just moves so much better when Draymond Green is there. It’s weird that I’ve spent this whole answer talking about what Draymond Green does on offense when he’s a former Defensive Player of the Year and that’s what he’s known for. Obviously, he’s going to bring all those things defensively, the communication, the basketball IQ, (and) keeping guys organized on that end. It’s interesting that where they feel it the most this season when he’s out has been on the offensive end.”

Savage: “If you were the Magic, what are some of the areas you would try and exploit and where are some of the areas you’ve seen other teams have success against the Warriors?”

Goldberg: “On the boards, mostly. James Wiseman probably won’t play Friday. He won’t be back until probably the second half of this road trip. Kevon Looney might be able to play, but he’s more likely to return in the second half (of this trip). You’re looking at a Warriors team whose tallest player is six-foot-seven and they’re starting two six-foot-six forwards in the frontcourt between Draymond Green and Juan Toscano-Anderson. They’ve been good and they’ve played admirably, but they obviously can get beat on the boards. Unless they’re getting stops defensively, there tends to be a domino effect, because they’re allowing so many second-chance points and offensive boards. They can dig themselves into an early hole sometimes, which is what we saw against Miami and some of these other teams too. With the Magic having Nikola Vucevic, obviously, if I’m the Magic I’d be getting the ball to Vucevic in the post as much as possible. And attacking the rim. The Heat (on Wednesday) had a lot of success just getting to the rim, setting high screens and just getting downhill. That’s somewhere the Warriors, even when they have Draymond Green back, they should be a little bit stouter defensively, but they’re obviously susceptible to guys getting to the rim. Even if you don’t make that shot, you get a short rebound and the opposing team’s size can take advantage of the Warriors being a little small right now. That’s where almost every team has tried to attack the Warriors. Sometimes it’s worked and sometimes Steph Curry goes off for thirty-six points and it doesn’t work so much.”

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