The Orlando Magic return home from their road trip to take on the Washington Wizards in a game with minor standings implications and the hope of Cole Anthony’s return.
Orlando Magic (17-33) vs. Washington Wizards (17-32)
Time/TV: 7 p.m./Bally Sports Florida
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2021 Season Series: Magic 130, Wizards 120Magic 120, Wizards 113 on Dec. 26 in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 27 in Washington, D.C., Tonight in Orlando
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The Orlando Magic are glad to be home. That should give them some time to practice and some time to get extra time on the court to work on things before games. Home is a really big advantage for a team like Orlando still trying to come together and get work outside of games together. Orlando felt like it did a lot of good things on its 2-3 road trip especially considering it was the first games for the Magic’s new players together.
The quiet part is that little win streak snuck the Magic briefly back into the playoff picture. The team trails the Chicago Bulls now by 4.5 games after the last two losses. That might still be too far. But the first part of that push starts with climbing over teams ahead of them. The Orlando Magic have snuck to within a half-game of the Washington Wizards for 13th in the Eastern Conference. That might make some fans hoping for a different outcome a bit uncomfortable.
The Wizards are still a dangerous team even without Bradley Beal, who has missed the last five games with a right hip contusion and is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game. But they are struggling too. Washington has lost four in a row and 14 of their last 21. Russell Westbrook has suddenly regained his All-Star form. But Orlando is playing well and this is a game where the team will want to see its strong play from the West Coast continue to come together.
3 Keys To Watch
Watch the Mistakes
Steve Clifford is trying to instill the foundations for his teams with an entirely new group. All without a training camp. For him, things like preventing fast-break points and grabbing defensive rebounds are givens that do not require even much drilling. That is just about desire and an attitude that he wants to be instilled in his team. Neither has quite set in for the Magic.
Orlando’s rebounds on the defensive glass are frustrating. The team went from the best defensive rebounding team by defensive rebound rate before the trade deadline to a bottom-10 rebounding team. How much of that are the opponents the team is playing? That is a good question. The Washington Wizards are not a team with size and so locking down the glass — and keeping Robin Lopez off the boards — will be a priority.
Orlando is second in the league with an 11.0-percent turnover rate. So the team has done well to limit its own mistakes on that end. Although there are still plenty of instances of killer turnovers that lead to transition points that the Magic do not want to see. For Orlando to win, it has to prevent its own mistakes.
Return of MVP Russ
When the Orlando Magic played the Washington Wizards back in December, Russell Westbrook was still getting used to his new digs in Washington and how to play his game alongside Bradley Beal. He struggled in the one game he played of those two — still scoring 15 points to go with 15 rebounds and 12 assists. But Orlando was more than happy to let him shoot and keep the ball out of Beal’s hands in that 10-point win.
Westbrook has found his groove of late though. In his last six games, he is averaging 23.5 points per game, 14.5 rebounds per game and 12.2 assists per game. He is shooting a decent 42.7-percent in that time. He has looked every bit the superstar he once consistently was. And without Beal, he has certainly played back in his comfort zone.
Stopping the Wizards has to start with containing and slowing down Westbrook. The Magic are still a bit thin at point guard and have to hope that Michael Carter-Williams has the approval to return to try to put some size on him.
The Orlando Magic are preparing for the imminent return of Cole Anthony. The rookie guard was starting to come into his own and play with a lot more confidence before he injured his should, fracturing a rib in the process, during the team’s first West Coast road trip in January.
A lot has changed since then. But the opportunity for Anthony remains. And the Magic are going to need both Anthony’s fearless leadership at the point guard spot and his shooting ability.
Anthony is averaging 11.0 points per game and shooting 39.8-percent from beyond the arc. In the eight games before the games he got injured, Anthony was averaging 13.5 points per game and 5.4 assists per game with a 42.9-percent mark from beyond the arc.
The frustrating part of Anthony’s injury is that it slowed this clear progress. He will not be able to pick up right where he left off. But his shooting will be very needed when he returns. Whether it is Wednesday or beyond.