Orlando Magic at Charlotte Hornets (March 3, 2023): 3 Things To Watch, Odds and Prediction

Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic reacts (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic reacts (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic close their road trip with a must-win game over the struggling and injury-hit Charlotte Hornets to close their season series with the division rivals.

Orlando Magic (26-37) at Charlotte Hornets (20-44)

Time/TV: 7 p.m./Bally Sports Florida
Line: Magic by 3.5
Tickets: $9-$945 on StubHub
Season Series: Magic 113, Hornets 93 in Orlando on Oct. 28; Hornets 112, Magic 105 in Orlando on Nov. 14; Magic 119, Hornets 113 in Charlotte on Feb. 5; Tonight in Charlotte

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OMD Prediction

Cole Anthony has already put the pressure on the Orlando Magic for this game, not that it did not already exist. He said after the Orlando Magic’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday that the team would be taking out its frustrations on their next opponent.

That is an easy thing to say when the Charlotte Hornets are next up. The same Hornets that are already at the bottom of the standings, sold off veteran players to open up room for younger players and have had to shut down LaMelo Ball after he fractured his ankle.

This game is all about the Magic and their focus and their ability to take care of their business. If they can do that, they will finish a 2-1 road trip and that is a good continuing step for a young team trying to stay in the postseason race.

38. 102. 170. Prediction. 114

3 Keys To Watch

Defense is the thing

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford shared some interesting thoughts on where defense is going in the NBA. He predicted teams will rely on zone defense a lot more and rely on blitzing schemes to try to speed up or create doubt in the skilled decision-makers that are everywhere around the league.

Essentially defenses cannot catch up to how spaced-out offenses are.

The Orlando Magic learned this the hard way in their loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. While certainly the Magic were late contesting many of those threes and let go of the rope as they desperately tried to catch up, the team still largely played its defensive strategy. Orlando is trying to limit points in the paint and bet they can spray out and contest threes.

And the Magic’s overhelp on the paint is based in large part on their ability to blitz screens, mix up their pressure on pick and rolls and pick up full court. That last point has been something Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs have been doing especially to try to slow down offenses and limit their time to operate.

That just may be what defense is. And sometimes nights like Wednesday happen. It has largely been successful for Orlando this year as the team has climbed the defensive rankings.

Take the Ball and go home

The Charlotte Hornets are simply not a good team when LaMelo Ball is not in the game. The Hornets have a -6.1 net rating with Ball off the floor including a horrid 105.5 offensive rating. And this Hornets team already has the worst offense in the league (the Hornets have a team-best 112.5 offensive rating with Ball on the floor).

There has not been a lot of time since Ball’s latest injury that will cost him the season. But it is not pretty. Charlotte scored only 91 points in a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday in Kevin Durant’s debut for Phoenix.

Charlotte has to hope that is not a preview of things to come. But the offense is going to struggle without Ball driving the team’s fast break and pace.

Paolo’s down Rookie of the Month

Paolo Banchero took home the Rookie of the Month Award in February for the third consecutive month. His ascendancy to Rookie of the Year is essentially guaranteed now. And what was most impressive about this latest award is that everyone acknowledges Banchero is struggling.

In February he averaged 16.6 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. That is a full three points per game lowers than his season average. He shot just 37.4 percent from the floor and 1 for 33 from beyond the arc.

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That shows how productive he can still be even when he is not playing well. No other rookie is dealing with the focus defenses are giving him (he sees some crazy double teams for a rookie). And the Magic need Banchero to take a step up if they are going to make a postseason chase.

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.