Orlando Magic vs. Utah Jazz: Game Preview

Mo Bamba
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic are showing immense improvement on the defensive end of the floor.

In the month of November, the Magic have held two opponents under 100 points and limited the other to 102. They have the league’s fourth-best defensive rating (98.6) and are blocking the second-most shots per game (6.7) during that time frame.

However, due to turnovers and inconsistent shooting, they’ve been unable to convert many of those staunch defensive efforts into wins. A condensed, road-heavy schedule and limited practice time to correct those aforementioned mistakes have not helped matters.

And unfortunately for Orlando, the path to victory does not get any easier. Its next six opponents all hold winning percentages of 66.7 percent or better. Oh, and after that, it gets two straight road contests against the defending champions.

That arduous stretch of basketball tips off on Sunday when the Magic (2-8) host the red-hot Utah Jazz (7-2) at 6 p.m. ET.

“We have to win each day, each possession, each moment, each practice. That’s how we get better,” Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley explained. “If you focus too far forward, it becomes somewhat daunting. I think at the end of the day, you just have to focus on the step in front of you. That’s what we’re doing every single day. One percent better every single day.”

That next step in front of Orlando is trying to find a way to limit a Utah squad that possesses the NBA’s second-best offensive rating (114.4), sixth-best defensive rating (103.3), and third-best net rating (11.1) this season.

“We talked about finishing at the rim, decision making, knocking down and taking open shots when they’re available, spacing, and those times – like we’ve talked about – end of game scenarios, up or down ten, eight turnovers, being able to execute in those times,” said Mosley of the focus of the team’s practice session heading into their matchup with the Jazz. “We were able to cover those (areas) and defensive principles (and) because we’re playing Utah (on Sunday) some ideas we’re going to run into with them.”

One area of focus will certainly be taking smart shots with Rudy Gobert patrolling the paint for Utah. The All-Star center is averaging 14.6 points, a league-best 16.2 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game this season.

The Magic will aim to pull the Jazz big man away from the basket with center Mo Bamba knocking down close to 40 percent of his attempts from long range this season. Orlando’s 7-foot big man is also doing a good job of protecting the rim, averaging 2.1 blocks per contest.

“It’s a huge advantage (to be able to pull him away from the basket). Try to get out there, try to make him play in more space,” said Bamba of using his range against Gobert and the Jazz. “Whenever Gobert is able to play in the paint and camp around the paint, his effectiveness goes way up. Just try and stretch the floor and get open shots for my teammates at the rim will be key for tomorrow.”

IN AND OUT: For Orlando, Cole Anthony (left ankle sprain) and Ignas Brazdeikis (left ankle sprain) are questionable. Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), and E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) all remain out.

For Utah, Udoka Azubuike (G League - On Assignment), Mike Conley (right knee; injury maintenance), Rudy Gay (right heel; injury recovery), and Elijah Hughes (illness; non-COVID) are out.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I think it’s great. I think it’s fantastic the job that they’ve done and the job that they continue to do of keeping it all together. Bringing it in as one family. It’s really, really good. It just speaks to what they’ve done and speaks to the work that they’ve put in and staying connected.” – Mosley on the Lakeland Magic, who raised their banner on Friday and held their ring ceremony on Saturday after winning the G League championship last season

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by KSL Sports’ Ben Anderson, who’s been covering the Jazz in various roles for over a decade. He was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the Jazz prior to their matchup with the Magic.

*Note this interview took place prior to Utah’s game against Miami on Saturday

Savage: “I think sometimes people forget that both members of Utah’s backcourt – along with center Rudy Gobert – made the All-Star Game last season. Just how good have Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley been for the Jazz to start this season?”

Anderson: “Really good so far. Now, nobody is shooting particularly well on the Jazz, maybe with the exception of Joe Ingles and Mike Conley. Mike Conley is shooting over forty percent from three to start the season. Where the Jazz last year as a team shot thirty-eight percent or better. So, that’s kind of fallen off outside of Mike Conley and Joe Ingles to start the year. Mike is a guy that the Jazz a couple of times already this season have relied on heavily to come up big and win some games. Against the Sacramento Kings, the other night, they really relied on their three All-Stars as you mentioned. Donovan Mitchell was huge in the third quarter. And after he kind of ran out of gas, because he had been doing it for so long in that game, he kind of just looked at Mike Conley and Mike Conley took over in the fourth quarter. He looked like the guy that we’ve seen in Memphis for so long that became this star player even though he (previously) never made an All-Star Game. It’s a terrific backcourt. Mike Conley’s presence is just so steadying. When he’s on the floor, even when Donovan Mitchell isn’t on the floor, the Jazz have been fabulous. Last year, he was number two in the entire NBA in raw plus-minus. Rudy Gobert was, of course, number one. Really, those two playing together was the reason why that unit was so successful.”

Savage: “Speaking of Rudy Gobert, Magic fans only really get to see him up close twice a year. How big of a presence does he continue to be down low for the Jazz?”

Anderson: “It’s one of those things where unless you watch him every night, it might be difficult to exactly understand exactly how valuable he is because there are a lot of guys who block shots and protect the rim. But he just dissuades so many people from even trying to go into the paint. It’s amazing to watch every night how many guys dribble, turn the corner, see that Rudy Gobert is standing in the paint, and literally turn around and dribble back out to the three point line and say ‘well, let’s see if we can get another look at this.’ It’s not unlike prime Dwight Howard with the Magic. Now, he’s not that good offensively. He doesn’t score at that same level, but he has an ability to go out and get baskets in the pick-and-roll and finds a way to get to the foul line quite a bit more than anyone else on the Jazz right now. His offensive game continues to develop. He’s had a few more situations this year where he’s caught the ball with his back to the basket and made a simple move and put it in at the rim. So, he’s still continuing to improve there. But I don’t think there’s any question that he’s the best low-post defender in the NBA.”

Savage: “For those of us who haven’t watched the Jazz as closely, what’s one other thing that’s standing out to you that’s resulted in such a hot start for Utah?”

Anderson: “What’s amazing this year is that the Jazz were bailed out all season last year by their hot three-point shooting and they have not shot better than forty percent as a team this year until their last game on the road in Atlanta. So, it’s been their perimeter defense, which was the reason they got eliminated by the Clippers in the playoffs last year. They couldn’t stop Reggie Jackson or really anybody from getting to the rim and it forced Rudy Gobert to kind of have to be in two places at once. But now, you are seeing Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell and all of these guys pick up that challenge at a much higher rate. (Jazz Head Coach) Quin Snyder even talked about those guys raising their level on the defensive end. So, even when the shots haven’t bailed them out, they’ve held pretty much one member of the opposing backcourt to just an atrocious night all eight games of the season, maybe with the exception of Denver and Chicago so far this year. That’s just given them so much breathing room. Even in the Hawks game that they won on Thursday night, when they couldn’t buy a basket in the first half, they also held Atlanta to just forty points in the first half. So, they stayed in the game defensively, which was something they weren’t doing a whole lot last year.”

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