Orlando Magic vs. San Antonio Spurs: Game Preview

Mo Bamba
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- An infusion of young talent, an overwhelming number of injuries and an increasing distance between them and the final spot in the NBA’s postseason play-in tournament have the Orlando Magic focused on daily improvement at the moment rather than a playoff push.

Approaching each game with the right mindset, developing their youth and re-establishing their defensive identity are all paramount to capitalizing on the remainder of the season and maximizing in-game opportunities.

Less than 24 hours after squandering one of those chances, and as a result suffering a blowout loss to a powerhouse Milwaukee Bucks squad, the Magic (17-36) will attempt to regroup when they host the San Antonio Spurs (25-26) on Monday at 8 p.m. ET.

“When you play like (Sunday night), nobody got better (and) that’s the point of it,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford explained. “You don’t just throw guys out there if they don’t have the right approach and we don’t have ways to get to groups so there’s purpose of play, we’re not going to learn, and we can’t have that.”

After showing initial promise following the flurry of trade deadline deals, Orlando has struggled over the last five games. During that span, it’s 29th in the league in offensive rating (102.2) and 30th in defensive rating (124.9).

“We just need to defend,” Magic center Mo Bamba said. “The Bucks ended up shooting, I think, forty-eight percent from the three-point line and that’s been the theme of the last two or three games is we need to defend. We need to have a team identity of team defense.”

KEY STAT: Bamba continues to be a bright spot for Orlando as he capitalizes on his increased workload and consistent floor time. The 7-foot-center set a new career high in points for the second time in the last three games, scoring 21 against the Bucks. It marked the eighth time in the last nine games that Bamba scored in double figures.

He’s also been a marksman from beyond the arc. Over Orlando’s last four contests, Bamba has made 12 of his 17 three-point attempts.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I put that all on me. On that backline of defense, there’s so many more things I can be doing out there, starting with talk(ing), getting guys in the right place. We have a lot of young guys. I’ve been in the league three years now and I think I am someone that they can lean on for guidance and how to defend an NBA offense. I put that on me, and it ends with rebounding. When you go out there and make plays and you finish possessions out there. I need to do a better job of fighting for loose balls and just going there and being more physical.” – Bamba on the Magic’s loss to the Bucks.

LET’S BE FRANK: The Magic signed free agent forward Robert Franks to a 10-day contract on Monday. He’s expected to be available for Orlando’s game against San Antonio. Franks was part of the Magic’s training camp roster. After camp, he was added to the Lakeland Magic’s squad for the G League season at Disney, where in 14 regular season games he averaged 12.1 points on 50.8 percent field goal shooting.

INJURY UPDATE: For Orlando, Chuma Okeke (sore right hip) is questionable, while Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Gary Harris (left adductor – injury maintenance), Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation), and Otto Porter Jr. (left foot pain) are out.

For San Antonio, Gorgui Dieng (right shoulder sprain) and Trey Lyles (right ankle sprain) are out.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by special guest, beat writer Matthew Tynan, who’s covered the team for the past 10 seasons. He was generous enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the Spurs.

Savage: “We saw Lonnie Walker make his return two games ago and give the Spurs a boost. What has his return meant for San Antonio and how did he assist in snapping that five-game losing streak?”

Tynan: “It sounds simple and it sounds cliché – especially since he’s not some great player – but he is a sparkplug. He’s a young dude that’s incredibly athletic, the most athletic guy on the team, and he’s just energy. The Spurs needed that badly, man. With the schedule that they’ve been on, the injuries that they’ve had, the rotation issues they’ve had because of those injuries, it’s really taken its toll on them. So, having Lonnie back in the lineup has really made a difference just from an energy standpoint. The last two games both Pop (head coach Gregg Popovich) and guys in the locker room have talked about the energy he provides. And not just the energy, he’s a good scorer. He’s difficult to guard. He’s one of the better scorers of the basketball on the team. He doesn’t necessarily need people to set him up like a lot of the guys on the Spurs do. His return to the lineup is huge both offensively and defensively, not just from a basketball standpoint, but from an energy standpoint. He is really lifting the Spurs through two games in a big way. I don’t know if (Magic fans) saw a highlight of his dunk last night over (Nicolo) Melli, but it’s just stuff like that, that gets the bench going and gets people revved up. When you talk to guys after the game or you hear former players on postgame shows talking about what dunks do for the energy of a team, it’s just like anyone watching at home on their couch. If someone has a massive dunk, it gets you up off your (seat). It does the same for these guys. Having Lonnie back for moments like that is huge because the Spurs needed some sort of kick in the pants, so to speak. They have been exhausted. Pop has talked about the tank being half full and them needing guys to return, so they can have some semblance of normalcy. Lonnie’s return is just part of that.”

Savage: “Just how much has been put on the plate of DeMar DeRozan and how much has he had to carry this Spurs team?”

Tynan: “He’s the team’s best player. That’s just obvious. He’s a guy that’s been given a little bit of flak for his inability to shoot the three and always opting for the long twos, but anyone who watches that guy or looks at his numbers and the statistics of how efficiently he scores, he’s just a monster. He’s one of the best offensive players in the game and he’s been carrying the load for this team for a long time, even when (LaMarcus) Aldridge was on the team. And nothing was really right with Aldridge this year, whether it was injury stuff or unhappiness with his role. Even though he seemed to do his part and by all accounts was very professional with everything over the course of the year, he was just not himself at all, even when he was with the team this season. So, DeMar has been doing this all year. He’s an incredible scorer. He’s been a great facilitator with the ball in his hands. Even last night, before the game, Pop said ‘at some point here, DeMar is going to need a night off.’ He’s just going to need it. It’s really wearing on him. Also, Pop has always been that way. When his guys start getting tired, he’s just going to sit them even if they want to play. They just believe in giving guys that extra night off here and there. It goes a long way in terms of mileage, not just later in the season, but even later in their careers. That will happen at some point, but it doesn’t seem to be coming tonight against Orlando. (Laughter) But I digress. DeMar’s been huge. A leader for the team on and off the court. He’s done a great job scoring (and carrying the load) for some of the young guys, who don’t create quite as well on their own at this point in their careers. It’s been a tough stretch for the entire team, and he has never shied away from taking responsibility even in these crappy stretches like the one they’ve been on. He’s been hugely important to the team and will be going forward even as guys get back. It will just make it easier for him.”

Savage: “Obviously, the Magic are hoping the Spurs revert back to some of that tough stretch of basketball over the prior five games. Over that span, where were some of the vulnerabilities, and if you’re the Magic what are some of the areas that you’re trying to take advantage of tonight?”

Tynan: “It’s actually pretty similar to what we talked about the last time these teams met. Without Aldridge and with Gorgui Dieng out, the big man position is very thin for the Spurs. It’s essentially Jakob Poeltl with Rudy Gay playing the five for the bench unit. You will probably see some Drew Eubanks thrown in there. It goes without saying, the big man position is very thin for the Spurs. They have been vulnerable on the inside, giving up offensive rebounds, guys being able to get inside and score, really causing the defense to collapse, (and) allowing teams to kick out for threes. With the Spurs roster situation the way it is, and Gorgui Dieng out, the depth is thin. You gotta get them inside. If you can control the middle, if you can get to Poeltl and perhaps get him in foul trouble, then the Spurs are going to be playing small all night. Teams have really been able to take advantage of that on the glass, especially teams with really long, athletic bigs. It feels like that’s their kryptonite. If the Spurs can’t control the glass and can’t control the three-point line – and it usually goes in that order – once the defense has been compromised on the interior, then the three-point line tends to become exposed. You gotta beat them inside. If you don’t control the interior, both offensively and defensively, you’re going to run into problems because the Spurs can score (and) they can get out on you and run. They’re not the greatest three-point shooting team in the world, but they’re very capable. As long as you keep them off-balanced on the inside, you’re going to give yourself a good chance to win.”

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