Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors: Game Preview

Cole Anthony
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- Riding high from an emotional road win over the Chicago Bulls, the Orlando Magic will attempt to carry that same focus and energy level into their next matchup.

The Magic look to notch back-to-back victories for just the second time since Feb. 21 when they go head-to-head with the Toronto Raptors in Tampa, Florida on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

After struggling on both ends of the floor, Orlando put together a complete performance in Chicago. Six Magic players scored in double figures, including a season-high 22 points from James Ennis III and 19 points courtesy of Wendell Carter Jr., who was facing his former team for the first time since being part of a blockbuster trade deadline deal that sent two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic to the Bulls.

“I feel like that’s something we can build off of, especially playing against a great team like the Bulls,” Carter explained.

Orlando’s ball movement was sensational. The Magic accumulated 29 assists, tied for their third most in a game this season. They also delivered on the defensive end, tallying 48 deflections, according to Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford, to go along with 10 blocks and eight steals.

“We were due for a win,” Ennis said. “It was good to go against Chief (Al-Farouq Aminu) and Vooch. (We) definitely got the win for Wendell and Otto (Porter Jr.). It was a good team win.”

Although both teams will look drastically different when they take the court on Friday night, the Magic will need to be firing on all cylinders if they hope to defeat a Raptors team that’s won the last six meetings between the squads, including two this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I feel like just being in Orlando, (there’s) an opportunity for me to showcase my game (and) an opportunity to show that I impact winning. It’s a huge opportunity for me coming to Orlando and I’m going to do everything I can to flourish in that opportunity just to prove myself and also help my teammates. This group of guys, they’re all about winning. Even though we’re young, we want to win.” – Carter on being part of the Magic organization.

INJURY UPDATE: For Orlando, Mo Bamba (left hip contusion) is questionable, while Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left ankle), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation), and Porter (left foot pain) are out.

For Toronto, DeAndre’ Bembry (right hamstring tightness), Jalen Harris (right hip pointer), and Gary Trent Jr. (right ankle soreness) are doubtful, while OG Anunoby (rest), Kyle Lowry (rest), and Pascal Siakam (rest) are out.

KEY STAT: Former Magic backup center Khem Birch is making the most of his new opportunity. The Montreal native started his first game as a member of the Raptors on Wednesday and posted 14 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes of action against the San Antonio Spurs. In his three games since joining Toronto, Birch is averaging 10.3 points and 6.0 rebounds, while shooting 68.4 percent from the floor.

Birch signed as an undrafted free agent with Orlando in 2017 and appeared in 188 regular season games for the Magic before agreeing to a buyout with the team earlier this month.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Raptors Republic staff writer Louis Zatzman. He’s covered the team for multiple outlets and has had bylines in The Athletic Toronto, Vice Sports, FiveThirtyEight, CBCSports, and Sportsnet. He was kind enough to take the time and answer a few questions about the Raptors.

Savage: “Former Magic center Khem Birch recently joined the team. In the three games you’ve seen him, including the one start, what have you seen from him so far?”

Zatzman: “He’s been fantastic. He said himself that he was ‘in a box in Orlando.’ Not blaming the franchise, but just saying that when he came there, he was raw, and he never really had a chance to show how his game improved over the years. I think he’s showing it now. His jumper and his handle are looking better than what I expected coming from Orlando. His defense is obviously solid. He’s in the right place. He’s been very solid, which is exactly what the Raptors needed at that position.”

Savage: “A lot of teams have had it tough in this truncated season. Arguably, the Raptors have had it tougher than anybody considering they’re playing miles upon miles away from home in Tampa, Florida. How do you think they’ve handled it so far and how has it taken a toll on them?”

Zatzman: “It’s been a big toll. I asked Fred (VanVleet) early in the year – just a month or two in – about what the mental health tolls might be? He said, basically, ‘I worry about my brothers.’ I think we’ve seen that only expand since then, with multiple COVID scares or outbreaks. They haven’t been confirmed either way, but a lot of players in the health and safety program, lots of injuries, on top of playing so far away from home and being apart from friends and family. It’s been tough and as they keep losing, it becomes harder and harder to enjoy yourself, which makes it harder and harder to play well, which means more losing. So, it’s a vicious cycle that they’ve been trapped in. When you look back on this season for Toronto, whatever ends up happening in the future, I think the off-court issues that the Raptors have faced will loom much larger than any of the on-court results. So, the question of how they’ve addressed it? It’s hard to say. It’s hard to say they could have done better. If some of Pascal Siakam's (potential) game-winners that he missed and just rimmed out earlier in the year, if those had gone down, it’s hard to know if they would have been happier and would they’ve won more and faced less struggles? It’s just so many what-ifs about this season. The team hasn’t done a bad job. They’ve tried hard to make it seem like home, but I think in hindsight, the Raptors were always going to face a much steeper uphill climb. We’ve seen the results of that on their metaphorical legs as the season has gone on.”

Savage: “This Raptors team, partly due to injury and partly due to rest, will look much different tonight than some of the Raptors teams the Magic have seen in the past. With that in mind, if you’re Orlando what are some of the areas you look to exploit and where have you seen some other teams have success against Toronto this season?”

Zatzman: “That’s a great question. Toronto is going to be young. They’re going to be very young. They’re starting a point guard in Malachi Flynn, who is a rookie, and they’re not going to have a ton of guard depth behind him. Fred VanVleet will probably also start at guard, but no Kyle Lowry, no OG Anunoby, no Pascal Siakam, a lot of those big names. So, how can Orlando take advantage? Probably by forcing a lot of turnovers. Toronto hasn’t been a high turnover team throughout the season, but definitely in spurts. They’ve had some self-inflicted wounds. Toronto is a streaky-shooting team, and without Kyle Lowry and OG, who are some of the most consistent, teams have been able to play into that turnover game by really blitzing, doubling, over-rotating, and cutting off the paint. Toronto does want to take threes. They’re not as talented in the paint, especially without Siakam. So, I think if Orlando forces turnovers, dials up the intensity, and sort of walls off the paint, the Raptors may be hard pressed to outscore their opponent.”

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