Orlando Magic vs. New Orleans Pelicans: Game Preview

Cole Anthony
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic are still searching for a complete performance.

Over periods of the last three games, they’ve put together strong stretches, but ultimately one quarter has done them in. Against the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets, it was the start of the third quarter. During their last game, a visit to the Atlanta Hawks, it was the second quarter – and perhaps even the start of the fourth – that ultimately proved to be too costly to overcome.

Now, the Magic (18-40) will look to put forth consistent energy and focus for a full 48 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans (25-33), who are fighting to keep their postseason dreams alive, on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.

“I’d like to see us grow as a team,” Magic point guard Cole Anthony explained. “We’ve had some really good stretches in games, even where we’ve had three really good quarters in a game, and we play our tails off. And then we have one quarter, a full quarter a night where we relax, catch our breath and that’s when the other team (outplays) us. I’d really like to see us put a full complete game together and just hopefully get a win.”

The rookie floor general is doing his best to turn that objective into a reality. Over the course of the last three contests, all starts due to an injury to Michael Carter-Williams, Anthony is averaging team highs in points (17.3) and assists (7.3), while also pulling down 5.3 rebounds per game.

“It’s all good experiences for him,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said. “The one thing that he’ll do is he’ll learn.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s (all) a learning experience. I think I’ve really been able just to figure the game out, offensively (and) defensively, figure out rotations, figure out differentiating between good shot, bad shot. Just playing for my team. Regardless, if that can help us win, just learning the game is what I think we’re all trying to do right now. We obviously want to win. I think the biggest thing for us since we’re such a young group is just for us to try to learn the game. Not all of us have been here that long, we have a few vets, but most of us, we’ve got like three or four rookies. We’ve got a bunch of second and third-year guys. The reason why we have to learn is so that we can build for the future.” – Anthony on his outlook for the remainder of the season.

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

For New Orleans, James Johnson (right adductor strain) is doubtful, while Nickeil Alexander-Walker (left high ankle sprain) and Josh Hart (right thumb surgery) are out.

KEY STAT: The Magic signed forward Robert Franks to a second 10-day contract on Thursday.

Franks originally signed a 10-day contract with Orlando on April 12. The 6-foot-7 forward has played in four games with the Magic, averaging 5.0 points and 1.8 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by longtime Pelicans.com beat writer Jim Eichenhofer. One of my favorite people to catch up and chat hoops with on the road, Eichenhofer was kind enough to take my call and answer a few questions about the Pelicans.

Savage: “Magic fans may get to see Zion Williamson for the first time as he’s never played against Orlando. What have you seen out of him this season?”

Eichenhofer: “Just the versatility in his game. The fact that he’s been on the ball so much more. We’ve legitimately seen point-Zion this year in terms of him running the offense and being able to make decisions and create off the dribble. It’s been so much easier for the team to make sure he touches the ball because, as you know, sometimes with bigs and guys that post-up or play in the paint, sometimes you have to make sure you’re making an effort to get them the ball. But with the team using him in the role that he’s been in, that hasn’t been a problem this year because he always has the ball and he’s running his version of point guard. He’s made a bunch of jumps across the board too, including his free throw shooting. He’s rebounding it a little bit better this year. His efficiency has just been through the roof. It was great as a rookie, but this year it’s been even better.”

Savage: “One of the bright spots for the Pelicans in the second half of the season has been the emergence of rookie Naji Marshall into a rotation role. After spending some time in the G League bubble, what’s really contributed to his development with this team?”

Eichenhofer: “For him and guys like James Johnson and Wes Iwundu – who I know you guys are familiar with – the fact that there’s been so many injuries. There haven’t been a ton of injuries over the course of the season, but it seemed like they all happened at once at the end of March and beginning of April. That gave Naji an opportunity to get on the court. It’s interesting if you look at his game logs from, the first time he got an opportunity to play double-digit minutes was (April 2) against the Hawks. Ever since that game, every single game he’s played a good amount of minutes. It just shows you the trust that the coaching staff has in him and how much he’s helped the team. Really for him, it appeared he just needed the opportunity to play significant minutes. The games he played in earlier in the season were like cameos where he played a handful of minutes or only got in during garbage time in a game that was a twenty, thirty-point game. I’ve been impressed that he’s totally capitalized on his chance to play. You know how it is with guys who don’t play that much. When they get an opportunity to play, their minutes kind of fluctuate. But he’s been very consistently on the court and playing big minutes, including the last game where he played thirty-plus and a huge stretch of the second half.”

Savage: “The Pelicans are 3 ½ games out of the play-in tournament and fighting for one of those final spots. What needs to happen, outside of the teams above them losing, for the Pelicans to put themselves in position to potentially claim one of those spots?”

Eichenhofer: “I think they need to win about ten games over the last fourteen. They’ll still need a little bit of help on the scoreboard to make the playoffs, but if they win ten, I think they’ll have a chance. They also have three games remaining against Golden State, which is one of the teams right ahead of them in the standings. Unfortunately, right now, they may have to sweep those three, which is going to be very difficult with the way Steph Curry is playing. Overall, they need to close games better. That’s kind of obvious from what’s happened lately where they’ve been in pretty much every game of this recent four-game losing streak. So, playing better in the fourth quarter and they need to shoot threes better, but it’s been difficult with the personnel that they’ve had on the court. They’re really going through a rough stretch lately from three-point range. Although, they shot it a little bit better against Brooklyn, which was encouraging.”

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