Orlando Magic vs. San Antonio Spurs: Game Preview

R.J. Hampton
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO – In their last two outings, the Orlando Magic have shown immense improvement on the defensive end of the floor.

The Magic have held two straight opponents under 100 points and hold the league’s third-best defensive rating (97.4) in the month of November.

Now, Orlando (2-7) will look to put together a balanced performance when they host the San Antonio Spurs (2-6) on Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

“(The team has) more of an understanding of what we’re asking,” said Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley about what has led to his team’s defensive improvement. “We talk about sticking with game plans and understanding what we’re willing to give up. Again, forcing teams into tough contested twos, not allowing them to finish at the rim, and again that ball security is the most important thing. That we’re not giving up live ball turnovers, so (the opposing team) isn’t getting easy baskets.”

In their first meeting with San Antonio, turnovers were a major factor for Orlando as it coughed it up 16 times and gave up 26 fast break points.

“They had a lot of points in transition last time – I think they had twenty-six – and they had fifty-six points in the paint,” said R.J. Hampton, who scored 12 points off of the pine in the Magic’s loss to the Celtics on Wednesday. “Those are two things that we’re trying to hone in on. Get stops and get a win. You get back in transition and you stop paint points, that changes the game.”

Orlando will get some help in one of those areas as San Antonio center Jakob Poeltl will miss the contest due to health and safety protocols. The 7-foot-1 big man was a huge factor in the first meeting with the Magic, notching 12 points, 13 rebounds – including eight offensive boards – and seven assists for the Spurs.

“He was a major factor,” Mosley explained. “His offensive rebounding, his ability to set offensive screens, his defense being in a drop coverage, (and) having our guards have to make a decision at the point of screen. Now (Drew) Eubanks is just as effective and just as strong, so we want to make sure that we do the things that we’re capable of doing and reading the way that they’re playing defense. And same thing, keep them off of the offensive glass.”

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) all remain out.

For San Antonio, Devontae Cacok (G League; Two-Way), Zach Collins (left ankle), Poeltl (health and safety protocols), Joshua Primo (G League assignment), and Joe Wieskamp (G League – Two-Way) are all out.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “When you get into the flow of the season and the cycle of games, you tend to not realize how much practice time you get. So, when there are some slippages, you have to use the shootarounds as practices, you have to use … film sessions as well as on-court walkthroughs as much as you can to get as much practice as you can and get these guys remembering all the things that you put in as your foundation.” - Mosley on how the team has dealt with a condensed game schedule and numerous road games to start the season

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by with KENS 5 San Antonio Spurs Beat Reporter Jeff Garcia. He was kind enough to take the time to answer a few key questions about the Spurs prior to their opener against the Magic.

Savage: “The absence of Jakob Poeltl due to health and safety protocols, how does that affect San Antonio coming into this matchup?”

Garcia: “It hurts them a lot on both ends of the court. And that’s been one of the pleasant surprises this season. Jakob Poeltl has a history of not being an offensive guy, but this year he has been putting up buckets. He’s scored in double figures in six of the seven games he played before entering health and safety protocols. So, there’s the offensive absence. Then defensively, that’s where he shines. He leads the team in rebounding, he leads the team in blocks, he leads the team in field goal percentage, he leads the team in offensive rebounding, players run the pick-and-roll well with him on the offensive end, (and) they rely on him to command the paint. It’s going to be a big, big loss for San Antonio not having him for this game.”

Savage: “When you look back at that first game, San Antonio’s bench had a big role in it. They have a few electric scorers there. What are you seeing from San Antonio’s second unit so far this season?”

Garcia: That’s a good question. The Spurs’ bench unit versus the Magic shined in that first game. You look at Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker, yeah, they’ve got horses to come off that bench. But they’ve been kind of iffy as the season has progressed. They’ve been letting teams come back into games. But Lonnie Walker as a sixth man has been great this season. He’s scoring in double figures and hitting three-point shots. He’s always reliable off that bench. You look at (Bryn) Forbes and he’s just coming on. He had a rough start to the season, but he’s knocking down the three, so hopefully that continues. The one guy that’s been playing really well is Devin Vassell. He’s a really, really good gem that the Spurs got in the draft. He can do it all offensively and defensively. He had his career high in scoring versus Dallas recently in a loss. Although they have good individual players, collectively they’re still trying to get their chemistry down as a unit. It doesn’t help losing Poeltl. That puts in a wrench into their bench rotation. I think it might come down to that tonight, Dan. Spurs bench and the matchup of legit big men against San Antonio.”

Savage: “In regards to San Antonio’s starters, one of the key questions entering the season was who is going to be that go-to guy for the Spurs offensively? Has that guy emerged yet? And who’s leading this Spurs offense?”

Garcia: “That’s another good question because the big question for San Antonio entering the season was who’s going to be that guy now that the guy, DeMar DeRozan, is no longer in Spurs colors? And it’s still a work in progress. Dejounte Murray seemingly wants that role. He’s taken last-second shots for the Spurs with the game on the line, most recently against the Lakers. He missed it, but he’s willing to accept that role. I think the players are looking at him and they want him to be that go-to guy for the team. But as of right now, Dan, I think it’s go-to guy by committee. If Bryn Forbes is hot, then he’s your go-to guy. If it’s Dejounte, it’s Dejounte. If it’s Devin Vassell, it’s Devin Vassell. If it’s Keldon Johnson, it’s Keldon Johnson. So, they’re searching, but all sights are turning to Dejounte as this season continues, Dan.”

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