The Orlando Magic make their final appearance at the Amway Center as Cole Anthony battles Rookie of the Year front runner Anthony Edwards to close the home schedule out.
Orlando Magic (21-46) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-47)
Time/TV: 7 p.m./Bally Sports Florida
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Line: Timberwolves by 7.5
Tickets: $36-$9,300 on StubHub
2021 Season Series: Magic 97, Timberwolves 96 in Minneapolis on Jan. 20; Tonight in Orlando
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Cole Anthony defended his rookie class after his matchup with LaMelo Ball. It is hard not to argue that the 2020 draft class has outperformed a lot of its expectations. What was considered a fairly weak class has made impacts throughout the league. Anthony has done his part in Orlando — as have R.J. Hampton and 2019 Draft pick Chuma Okeke. But Anthony Edwards has been the class of the bunch. He has been scoring and scoring efficiently this season and leading a bit of a resurgence from the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Wolves have played a lot better since D’Angelo Russell returned from injury — 8-9 since his return. This is Minnesota we are talking about, after all. So that is pretty good for them. The Wolves are likely going to play themselves out of the top odds for the Lottery. Considering all the money they have invested already and young talent playing, they do not mind.
Their key is to play with discipline. They have plenty of scorers and offense to go around in their starting lineup. But they can often get frustrated or fall in love with their 3-point shot and then turn the ball over. This is a game where the Orlando Magic have to be on point early to compete or they could get buried if they let the Minnesota Timberwolves get into a rhythm.
3 Keys To Watch
Putting the pieces together
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been the team at the bottom of the standings that seem like they have the brightest immediate future. Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the standings forever and, while Minnesota has been there for a long time, the team seems to have the players to start to climb out of it. Since D’Angelo Russell returned in early April, the Wolves are averaging 114.2 points per 100 possessions, putting them in the middle of the league.
It is the little victories like that. But Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards form a dynamic scoring trio that is difficult for any team to contain when they have everything rolling. Towns is averaging 25.4 points per game and shooting a 56.7-percent effective field goal percentage since Russell’s return. The rookie Edwards is averaging 23.3 points per game with an astounding 54.7-percent effective field goal percentage. And Russell is averaging 18.3 points per game on a 55.7-percent effective field goal percentage.
That is at least the beginning of something. Even though Minnesota struggles to defend consistently and their offense is reliant wholly on those three players right now, that is the beginnings of something. If there is a team that could use a bit of positive momentum heading into the offseason from a few wins, this is a team for that.
Rebounding and transition
Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford has put his emphasis on these final games in trying to get the team to do the things that do not require practice to get better at. He wants to see the team commit to the defensive glass and slow transition play. The rebounding especially has been something the team has struggled with since the trade deadline.
Orlando ranks 26th in the league since the trade deadline in defensive rebound rate, grabbing 71.5-percent of their available defensive rebounds. This is a huge problem for a Magic team with such a small margin for error. They can point to several games where rebounding just killed them. The only good news is that the Magic are only 19th in second-chance points allowed in that time (13.6 points per game).
The Magic need to win on the margins. That is really the point Clifford is trying to make. He does not want to see the team giving away points or scoring opportunities.
Bench vs. Bench
The Minnesota Timberwolves get the majority of their scoring from their three main players. With an injury to Malik Beasley, the Wolves are relying even more on their three young stars to carry the team. And that leaves a lot to be desired, especially when the team gets frustrated. Minnesota easily digs itself a lot of holes. But a lot of those issues start with the bench.
Since Russell’s return in early April however, Minnesota is leading the league in bench points per game with 47.5 per game.
The Timberwolves do not have any great scorers, but they usually keep one of their three key players on the floor and they can spread the floor with solid shooters in Juancho Hernangomez, a dynamic guard in Josh Okogie, the veteran leadership of Ricky Rubio (he is currently starting, however) and a bully inside in Naz Reid. Jaden McDaniel’s absence to attend a funeral will affect their bench production in this game.
Minnesota always tries to keep the offensive pressure on teams and they can score in a lot of different ways even with the bench. But Orlando’s bench has played well too. Since April 5, the Magic are averaging 43.0 points per game off their bench. That is even with how depleted the team has been.
For both teams, those early second-quarter minutes are still very important to their chances to win. Whoever plays better when they break the lineups could have a good shot at winning the game.