Orlando Magic vs. Washington Wizards: Game Preview

Wendell Carter Jr.
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic get one more crack at making the most of this five-game homestand before heading out for five straight contests on the road.

The Magic (3-9) welcome the Washington Wizards (8-3), owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference, to Amway Center for a Saturday night showdown at 7 p.m. ET.

Orlando will need to be disciplined on both ends of the floor in order to defeat Washington, who’s still an effective squad even without Bradley Beal (personal reasons) on the floor. The Wizards possess the league’s fourth-best defensive rating (102.9) and have been crushing teams on the interior, scoring the NBA’s fourth-most points in the paint per game (50.4).

The Magic will need to continue to build on their strong defensive showings to upset their Southeast Division rival. Orlando has the association’s sixth-best defensive rating (103.2) during the month of November and is blocking the second-most shots per game (6.2) during that span.

“We’re doing ok (in regards to rim protection), but there’s definitely room for improvement,” said Mo Bamba, who’s fifth in the NBA in blocks per game (2.2). “One of the biggest things is positioning. A lot of times my length covers for my positioning, but if I’m there early instead of getting there late, it turns away people from even trying to get layups or things at the rim. It’s all about timing and positioning.”

The 7-foot center will have his hands full trying to limit Montrezl Harrell and the rest of Washington’s big men. Harrell is making a strong case to once again be considered for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

The Louisville alum is averaging 18.1 points, 9.3 rebounds – including 2.5 offensive boards – and 1.2 blocks per contest off the bench for the Wizards, while knocking down 64.0 percent of his shots from the floor.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I was trying to get some of them, but he had prescription (lenses) in them, those old Horace (Grant style goggles), so I can’t wear them. I’m going to have to bring them out (at some point) for sure.” – Wendell Carter Jr., who will likely have to wear goggles when the Magic take the floor against the Wizards after taking a blow to face in Orlando’s contest against Brooklyn.

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

For Washington, Joel Ayayi (G League – Two-Way), Beal (personal reasons), Davis Bertans (left ankle sprain), Thomas Bryant (left knee), Rui Hachimura (not with team), Isaiah Todd (G League – On Assignment), and Cassius Winston (G League – Two Way) are out.

OLDIE BUT A GOODIE: One of the most exciting parts of this matchup tonight will be the return of the Magic’s original theme song. While candidly, I’ve been pushing for the return of this vintage gem since joining the organization nearly 13 years ago, the Ringer’s Kevin Clark, a lifelong Magic fan, proved that one of his Tweets carries much more weight within the building than any influence this dot-commer can provide.

Clark tweeted out his appreciation for the original theme song, and within moments the Magic’s official Twitter account replied, promising to bring back the classic if their response would hit 1,000 retweets. Within minutes that mission was accomplished.

The next quest? Get it to 10,000 retweets. Then, it will be played at every game for the rest of the season.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by special guest, Becca Winkert, Director of the WizardsXtra blog. She’s been covering the Wizards for the last four seasons and is one of my favorite follows on Twitter. She was generous enough to take the time and answer a few key questions heading into the matchup:

Savage: “Magic are familiar with Wes Unseld Jr., who served as an assistant coach in Orlando (2012-2015). What have been your biggest takeaways about him since he joined the Wizards as their head coach?”

Winkert: “Wes Unseld Jr. is very serious and defensive minded. He’s also the type of coach that doesn’t let his players get easily discouraged, which is essential for this team, which is obviously going through a learning curve right now, getting to know each other and trying to find the right chemistry. He’s very supportive but emphasizes the importance of playing hard on both ends of the floor. The thing that’s stood out to me, is that he challenges his players to make strides on the defensive end slowly but surely. For example, he asked the players ‘how many stops would you get per game last season?’ He follows that up with ‘well, this season try to get one more per game stop than last season.’ And build on that. He pushes them in a way that’s effective.”

Savage: “The Wizards will sadly be without Bradley Beal tonight. How do you expect them to adjust to his absence against the Magic?”

Winkert: “The Wizards played without Bradley Beal earlier this season in an overtime win over the Indiana Pacers. I’m confident that they’ll look to compensate for his absence by committee because the roster is so deep, especially as it relates to the offensive end. I expect that Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell will all work together to fill the gaps. It’s definitely a setback, but one they’ll look to compensate for as a team rather than by one player.”

Savage: “Speaking of Kyle Kuzma, he’s one of the new pieces to join the Wizards. What have you seen from him since he’s come to D.C.?”

Winkert: “Kyle Kuzma has been able to come out of his shell since coming to D.C. because he has a bigger role here. Now that he’s not in the shadow of a bunch of superstars like he was in L.A., he has a role here where his presence is important. He’s been a good rebounder, a great shooter and has stepped up when the team has needed him. Last game, the Wizards were able to get the win because he knocked down a couple of clutch three-pointers. He’s been able to step up in a way for the Wizards that he wasn’t able to with the Lakers. I think him being in D.C. has been good for him and the team so far.”

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