Orlando Magic at Memphis Grizzlies: Game Preview

Cole Anthony
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- One game after taking the blame for not willing the Orlando Magic to victory, Cole Anthony did just that against the Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring eight of the team’s final 11 points to lift them to 109-104 road victory.

Now, the Magic’s rookie floor general will look to help his squad notch back-to-back wins for just the second time since Feb. 21 when they visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

“We want to build, we want to get better, (and) we just want to learn,” said Anthony, who’s coming off an 18-point performance that included a go-ahead driving layup with 45 seconds left. “We learned a few things (against Cleveland), we learned a few things (against the Lakers), and we just have to take the knowledge acquired in these past couple games and use that to help us better ourselves for the next coming games.”

Along with Anthony’s fantastic fourth-quarter finish, the Magic were boosted by veterans Gary Harris and James Ennis III, who returned to the starting lineup after missing the five prior games with a calf injury. Harris finished with 19 points – his most since being acquired by Orlando in a trade-deadline deal with Denver – and Ennis III notched eight points and eight rebounds while recording a contest-best +20 plus-minus.

“Not just (against Cleveland), but James all year, and Gary since he’s been here, are showing just how professional they are and how important they are to have on the team, especially with a group of young guys,” Magic acting head coach Ty Corbin explained. “To show their leadership and what it takes to be successful in this league and (Wednesday’s game) was a great indication of that.”

The Magic (19-43) will need that veteran mindset as they prepare for a home-and-home back-to-back against the Grizzlies (31-30), who are desperately trying to fight their way out of play-in tournament seeding and secure the sixth spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

“It’s fun playing with these guys and being with these guys each and every day whether that’s practice, walk through, or out there live in the game,” Harris said. “We’re looking forward to correcting some things, watching film – we still made some mistakes – and looking forward to putting it all together against Memphis.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “They call that crunch time. Right, the last five minutes of the fourth quarter? I want the ball. I want to go get it for the team.” – Anthony on his mindset in the closing moments of games.

INJURY UPDATE: For Orlando, Terrence Ross (back spasms) is doubtful, and Devin Cannady (right ankle; open dislocation), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left ankle), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation), Chuma Okeke (sprained left ankle) and Otto Porter Jr. (left foot pain) are out.

For Memphis, Grayson Allen (left hand injury) is doubtful and Jaren Jackson Jr. (left knee; return for injury management) is out.

KEY STAT: The Magic have deployed 29 different starting lineups during the 2020-21 season. According to SportRadar and the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most starting lineups used in franchise history. Orlando used 28 different starting lineups during the 1991-92 and 2012-13 campaigns. With an injury sidelining Okeke, there’s a chance that number goes up to 30 on Friday.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by one of my favorite people in the world to talk hoops with, Michael Wallace, senior editor, contributor, and analyst for Grind City Media and Grizzlies.com. He was kind enough to take my call, catch up and answer a few questions about the Grizzlies.

Savage: “I know he won’t play at least in the first game between these two teams, but Jaren Jackson Jr. recently made his return from injury. How did he recover and what have you seen from him since his return?”

Wallace: “Jaren was a guy that a lot of people throughout the season were wondering, when is he going to come back? When is he going to come back? There was always this anxiousness about getting Jaren back in. You’ve got to really credit not only Jaren himself for putting in the work and being methodical, but the Grizzlies, the front office, and Jaren’s family for really taking a methodical process to this and a look at this in terms of his long-term health. They didn’t want him coming back and rehabbing on the court. They wanted him to be physically fit when he got back and to resemble himself as much as possible. You saw those first couple of games, he had four blocks in his first game back, and he had twenty-three points in his second game back. His first week or so since returning from the rehab and the extended rehab from the knee injury have been remarkable. He’s provided a boost to this team that they’ve been looking for to push them down the stretch so far.”

Savage: “You probably talk a lot about him, but it will be the first two times that Magic fans get to see Ja Morant this season. Where have you seen him make the biggest strides in his second year in the NBA?”

Wallace: “I think as a shooter. Now, last season he shot about forty-one, forty-two percent from three-point range, but then this year, he took a significant step back through the first two or three months of the season. But in the month of April, he’s really regained his stroke. He’s more in attack mode now. He’s more willing to take over games from the outset and get the team into the paint. Basically, Ja Morant is such a team player that he’s willing to defer and allow other guys to get going first. Then, once you get into the second half, then he figures out, ok, this is what’s needed from me. What you’re seeing now with Ja is that he’s taking the mindset of ‘let me set the tone of how we need to play mentally, physically, aggressively and the other guys will follow me, and then I will help bring them on board.’ So, just his mindset, his leadership, and his ability to be durable throughout this season. He missed a couple games here and there with some issues, but he’s always come back stronger after he’s missed some time. He wants to be there full-time for these guys. He knows that he’s a superstar. He knows that he gets that respect. And you’re seeing him get to the free-throw line more than anything at this stage of the season more so than he was last year.”

Savage: “The Grizzlies currently sit in the middle of the play-in tournament in the Western Conference standings. For them to get out of the play-in and get into the playoffs and perhaps even have some success there, what do you think is the biggest thing that needs to happen for this team?”

Wallace: “There are eleven games left to be exact and they are three games behind Dallas for the coveted sixth seed, which allows you to avoid the play-in all together. The way the schedule shapes up, the Grizzlies had one of the top three toughest schedules up to this point. Now, over the last month of the season, they’ll have the second weakest schedule when it comes to the records of the opponents that they’re playing. They have a chance to really gain some momentum, to really hit their stride, and to really fine tune some things as they get ready for the postseason. Whether it’s finding a way to catch the sixth and avoid the play-in or maximizing what they can do from the play-in. Because, obviously, if you’re in the play-in, you want to be in a situation where if you win one, you secure your spot. If you can’t do that, you want to try and be at home in either the ninth spot where you’re hosting the tenth or in the seventh spot where you’re hosting the eighth. If the Grizzlies can line up one of those spots, I think that will be advantageous for them coming off the way they’ve played in the month of April.”

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