Orlando Magic vs. Minnesota Timberwolves: Game Preview

Cole Anthony
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- One of just a handful of NBA teams to have played their entire season in front of fans, the Orlando Magic – a model example of how to do that safely and successfully – will take the floor for their final home game of the 2020-21 campaign at Amway Center on Sunday.

The Magic (21-46) have an opportunity complete a season sweep of the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-47) when the two teams go head-to-head at 7 p.m. ET.

In their first meeting of the season, Orlando rookie Cole Anthony delivered one of the most exhilarating game-winners of the league year when he collected a rebound off Jarred Vanderbilt’s second straight missed free throw attempt with 4.6 seconds left on the clock, stormed down the court, and connected on an acrobatic 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Malik Beasley as time expired.

That performance provided a jolt to the rookie floor general, who went on to score in double figures in six of the next 10 games before a rib injury sidelined him for 25 straight contests.

“Everything has just slowed down whether it’s getting my teammates involved at points and also knowing when to get my own shot, it’s really been finding that balance,” said Anthony, who’s averaging team highs in points (14.2) and assists (4.9) since returning from injury. “All that time off gave me a chance to really study the game, watch from the sidelines, watch a lot of film, and even now, I still do the same thing.”

Anthony is not the only member of Orlando’s backcourt to recently make strides. R.J. Hampton, who was acquired by the Magic in a trade deadline deal with the Denver Nuggets, has also shown flashes as he gets set for the final five games of his rookie campaign.

The explosive combo guard is averaging 17.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the floor this month as he continues to make the most of his increased opportunity in Orlando.

“He’s been really good, and the game has really slowed down for him,” Anthony said of Hampton. “He’s finishing so much better (and) he’s not taking the bad shots he was taking when he first got here. When he first got here, he was just one-hundred mile per hour, go, go go, and he’s still going a hundred-and-twenty miles per hour – he’s fast, he’s super fast – but it’s a lot more controlled. You can tell why he’s shooting such a higher percentage. He rebounds, he defends. I’m a big fan of R.J.”

The Magic will need all of that production if they hope to go blow for blow with the Timberwolves, whose three-headed monster of Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards is the highest scoring trio in the NBA since Apr. 1 (with a minimum of 15 games played each – via @nba.downtown).

KEY STAT: Since the Magic dealt All-Star center Nikola Vucevic to Chicago and waived Khem Birch, center Mo Bamba has made the most of his increased workload.

Over the last three games, some of his biggest advancements have come on the glass, notching 15-plus boards on three straight occasions. After grabbing a then career-high 15 rebounds against the Pistons, he matched that total against the Celtics, and then set a new career-best against the Hornets with 18 boards.

In the process, he became just the fifth NBA player all-time to match/set a new career high in rebounds in three consecutive games when their career best was already in double figures prior to the streak (according to Elias Sports Bureau). He joins:

Patrick Patterson – March 2011

Marc Jackson – Dec. 2000

Anthony Cook – Jan. 1991

Jerome Lane – Dec. 1989

Jackson is the only player on that list to extend the streak to four games, so Bamba has the chance tonight to join even more elite company.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “She taught me discipline. She taught me (about) being respectful. When it comes to the off-the-court things, just being a good person all around. I feel like she played a huge role in that. She played basketball, but it was bigger than basketball for her, if I can say that. She just wanted to make sure I was a good person no matter if I made it to the NBA or if I stopped playing in college. No matter what happened, she wanted to make sure that people liked me because of who I am, not because of what I do. That’s her big thing and that’s definitely taken me a long way. Just being a great people person, being respectful, and just being nice.” – Wendell Carter Jr. reflecting on Mother’s Day on the impact his mom had on his development.

INJURY UPDATE: For Orlando, Carter Jr. (left eye abrasion), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left ankle), James Ennis III (sore right calf), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation), Chuma Okeke (sprained left ankle), Otto Porter Jr. (left foot pain), and Terrence Ross (back spasms) are out.

For Minnesota, Beasley (left hamstring injury), Jarrett Culver (right ankle surgery), and Jaden McDaniels (personal reasons) are out.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Timberwolves Director of Digital Content and co-host of the Social on the Sidelines podcast, Shahbaz Khan. He was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the T-Wolves.

Savage: “When you look at what Anthony Edwards has been able to do in his inaugural campaign, what’s impressed you most about the Timberwolves rookie?"

Khan: “Ant has continually been improving throughout the season. At the beginning of the year, you saw some flashes and things being put together. But he never really hit a rookie wall. At the point of the season in which there was a little more leeway given to him in terms of offensive creativity and after the coaching change as well, you really saw him start to turn things on, on a consistent basis and play at a very high level. He was doing it intermittently throughout, but recently started showcasing the whole package. And still, he’s just scratching the surface both offensively and defensively. It’s been a joy to watch and something really exciting for fans to be able to witness.”

Savage: “When you consider everything that Karl-Anthony Towns has been through this year, how impressive has he been just as a human being, especially with the amount thrown at him and the way that he’s handled it?”

Khan: “KAT is the ultimate professional in all senses of the word, obviously this year more than any dealing with a lot of adversity both on and off the court. In terms of injuries on the court, and off the court, obviously going through quite a bit personally. I think it shows the character of who he is and it’s great to have someone like that on your team and part of your organization. Everyone talks about it, but realistically, he could have taken some time away from the game and nobody would have blamed him. Even on a team that obviously hasn’t won as much as we would have like to either, he’s fully bought in each and every game. Even when he was injured, you saw him constantly around and backing the rest of his teammates. So, it’s great to have him as part of the franchise and as the face of the franchise.”

Savage: “The Timberwolves are in a similar position to the Magic in the standings where they’re not fighting for the postseason right now. What are they trying to get out of these last five games as they get set for the offseason?”

Khan: “The Wolves have dealt with quite a bit of adversity in the form of injuries this season. There really haven’t been a ton of games where the entire team has been healthy. When you think about Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley, I believe it’s less than double-digits (games) this season in which all of them have been able to suit up together. So, you really haven’t been able to see what the team is fully capable of. Most recently with KAT and D-Lo making a return, this season they have an above .500 record or very close to it (when they play together). Now, what they are fighting for and pushing towards is continuing to build a culture, continuing to build heading into next season, and really iron out some of the details on both sides of the ball with coach (Chris) Finch at the helm. You’re seeing some of the dividends with some of the wins we’ve had recently. Sweeping the Utah Jazz (and) a big win over the Golden State Warriors, there’s really a big foundation being put together that usually you don’t see from a team under .500 at this juncture of the season that’s eliminated from the playoffs. It’s actually been very exciting to see organizationally knowing that we’re just scratching the surface of our potential going into next season.”

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