Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves: Game Preview

R.J. Hampton
by Dan Savage

Getting off to solid starts has not been a problem for the Orlando Magic.

In fact, the Magic’s starting unit has a net rating of 21.5, best in the league among lineups that have played at least 50 minutes together this season.

Instead, most of the issues plaguing Orlando have occurred once the team breaks its opening grouping and goes to the bench.

The Magic will attempt to rectify that issue and put together a complete 48-minute performance when they close out their three-game road trip with a stop in Minnesota for a Monday night meeting with the Timberwolves at 8 p.m. ET.

“The best way to do that is to just play solid, take care of the ball, and force difficult shots on defense,” said Magic rookie Franz Wagner, who’s currently averaging 13.9 points per game, third most among rookies.

The schedule makers have not been kind to the Magic to start the season. For a young and inexperienced team that’s looking for find their footing in the NBA landscape, they’ve had to start their 2021-22 campaign with six of their first eight games on the road – including two back-to-backs – and have been granted very little practice time to give coaches ample opportunity to rectify some of their mistakes.

“It’s definitely not easy adjusting to it, but I’m doing my best,” said Wagner of opening his career in the league with that type of schedule. “It’s just taking care of your body when you have the time. You (have to) know that basketball is a full-time job and it’s not just when you pull up to the game. It’s really before that. Sleeping right, eating right, (and) all of that can impact your performance.”

Orlando will also look to continue to make hustle plays as the team under the leadership of head coach Jamahl Mosley attempts to establish an identity of a hard-nosed, energetic squad. The Magic have drawn six charges so far, tied for third best in the association.

They’ll also need to be even more consistent at moving the basketball as they’re at their best offensively when playing with pace, space and the pass. Thus far, they are averaging 289.6 passes per game, 10th most in the league.

“When we push the ball and when we move the ball and make the defense shift multiple times, that’s when we have really good offensive possessions,” said Chuma Okeke, who’s return from a hip injury should help bolster Orlando’s depth. “But when we have the ball on one side of the floor for a while that’s when we become stagnant, that’s when we have to force up shots, or that’s when the shot clock comes into play. When we get everybody involved and play together and play at a fast pace or with some pace, then we always look good.”

IN AND OUT: For Orlando, Gary Harris (left ankle sprain) is questionable, while Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), and E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) are all out.

For Minnesota, McKinley Wright IV (G League; Two-Way) is unavailable.

QUOTES TO NOTE: “Very excited to get a game in the City Jerseys. It’s always very creative. Orange is always something different. But we like different.” – Center Mo Bamba on the Magic’s unveiling of the latest iteration of their Nike NBA City Edition uniform. They will debut on Nov. 24 when Orlando hosts Charlotte.

“It’s great. A lot of emotions. I’m excited. I’m anxious to see what the crowd will be like and everything like that. But really, I’m excited to be home. Excited to be in front of family and friends. This is where I grew up at and being able to come back here and play at the highest level, you can’t say much more than that.” – Jalen Suggs

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Dane Moore, whose daily podcast on the Timberwolves provides amazing insight on the team. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Wolves upcoming matchup with the Magic.

Savage: “Anthony Edwards is playing a big role for the Timberwolves. How much of a leap has he taken this season?”

Moore: “I actually don’t think it’s a leap. I think it happened at the end of last season. If you go through and look at his numbers from the final twenty games of the year, they weren’t quote-unquote meaningful games, because the Wolves were already out of the playoff mix, but he looked like this player in those final twenty games. I think it’s more of a continuation off of that. He had an interesting season last year where he was really bad in the first half of the year and then kind of turned the corner in the second half and that’s really, again, statistically – but even just eye test. He just got so much more comfortable with the game and shots started falling more and he became a much more efficient and effective player. I think this is just the progression of that.”

Savage: “Two of the veterans that will have a huge impact on how far the Timberwolves go this season are Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. What are you seeing from them early in this campaign?”

Moore: “KAT is not shooting enough. He’s third on the team in attempts. So, (Timberwolves Head Coach) Chris Finch just talked about need to get him involved more. He talked a lot after their last game about needing to get KAT more shots. He talked about that again today at shootaround. They’re struggling a bit to find the balance offensively and pass the baton between Edwards, DLo and Towns. They haven’t really found a good balance there. KAT is just such an offensive force that he’s always going to be efficient, but Russell has not been. He’s just had one good game. That was the game in Milwaukee. Other than that, he’s really struggled. A ton of turnovers, he’s shooting thirty percent from three, well under fifty percent from two, (and) it’s not been a strong start to the season for him. Those numbers are including that Milwaukee game, so he’s just kind of a volatile guy. I was watching one of the Magic’s recent games and I was like he’s kind of like Cole Anthony. He’s going to go off and it’s going to be a really impactful, positive offensive performance or it’s still going to be a lot of shots and he’s going to miss them. It kind of drives the offense in that way, the direction it’s going.”

Savage: “For Magic fans, who don’t watch the Wolves as closely, what’s one other thing that they should be paying attention to in this matchup from Minnesota?”

Moore: “The Timberwolves are the smallest team in the NBA, and I don’t think people really think about that because when you think about the Timberwolves, you think about Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s probably the first place your head goes. He’s a big, right? But if you go down their roster, the team is extremely small. They started the first three games of the season with Josh Okogie at power forward, who’s like six-foot-four. Now, though, if I’m a Magic fan, what I would be watching for is this Jarred Vanderbilt guy, who they’ve shifted into the starting lineup at power forward. He is not a shooter, but he is an insane offensive rebounder. He just really attacks the shots every single time. It can kind of inspire the Wolves offense when he’s all over the glass creating extra possessions and those sort of things. I think that Vanderbilt is a guy, who Magic fans might not really know about, that might really sneak up on you.”

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