The Orlando Magic come off a win as they head to Memphis to begin a two-game set with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Orlando Magic (19-43) at Memphis Grizzlies (31-30)
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The Orlando Magic are never going to be upset about getting a win. Especially when it is their young players stepping up and delivering the final blow to get it. Cole Anthony’s finishing flourish and heady play is exactly what they want to see. They want to see growth and development and everything else to support that. The fact is the Magic were never going to lose every game the rest of the season. They are still going to pick up a few wins to finish this season.
But getting more wins will be hard. Even a 23-point lead is not safe with this young team as they try to figure things out. And more injuries to key players are only going to make things worse. Chuma Okeke is expected to be out for Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
A Grizzlies team that is big up front with Jaren Jackson returning and Jonas Valanciunas anchoring the inside. And probably hungry after a blowout loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in an important playoff matchup. The Grizzlies can be broken down. But it is tough for the Magic to do so when such a key player like Okeke at a position the Magic are thin at already is not able to play.
3 Keys To Watch
Turnovers and deflections
Tracking deflections is an inexact science. Its effect on games is also inexact. The only thing we know is that Steve Clifford likes tracking deflections as a measure of the team’s defensive activity and that his definition of what a deflection differs from what we see on NBA.com. Those numbers have the Magic 24th in the league for the season with 13.3 deflections per game and 17th since the trade deadline with 13.9 deflections per game. Obviously, the Magic’s defense is significantly worse since the deadline.
The point of bringing this up is that the Memphis Grizzlies are fourth in the league in deflections with 16.4 per game. And the Magic are coming off a game with an unusually high amount of turnovers. The team especially struggled with the pressure defense the Cleveland Cavaliers put on in the fourth quarter with 12 points off six turnovers as they erased a 20-point deficit.
The Magic have been good with turnovers since the deadline — third in the league since the deadline with an 11.3 turnover rate. But Orlando has to be sharp with their passes and execution knowing Memphis is trying to shoot into those passing lanes and disrupt the team.
Ja vs. Cole
Cole Anthony has been a revelation the last few weeks. His scoring and driving to the basket have been tremendous and he has looked incredible offensively. The rookie has made some tremendous strides. But among the things he has to work on is his defense. Anthony’s defensive impact has been fairly low and he is not much for deflections or steals. The Magic even often hide Anthony away from primary creators, according to matchup data from Basketball Index.
At some point, the Magic will have to give Anthony some defensive responsibility. That probably will not be up against Ja Morant. Morant is averaging 19.5 points per game and 7.3 assists per game. His scoring increased but his efficiency decreased in his second year. In his last 10 games, he is up to 21.4 points per game and 7.2 assists per game on 49.7-percent shooting. Morant is starting to peak at a key time for the Grizzlies as the playoff chase heats up.
Undoubtedly, James Ennis’ return to the lineup on Wednesday helped the Orlando Magic stake a lead. It balanced everything, giving a facilitator and secondary player to the starting lineup and allowing Dwayne Bacon to dominate the scoring for the second unit. That was always the ideal way for the team to play. The veteran players really help the team stabilize and play with better pace and intensity.
Gary Harris especially having such a huge game was a big boost to the Magic. They need him to be a good shooter to space the floor, but his driving ability has been the most surprising addition to the team. When the veterans are engaged and playing well, the Magic have a chance to win. Their presence is key and will be even bigger with Chuma Okeke out.