Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns (March 16, 2023): 3 Things To Watch, Odds and Prediction

Jalen Suggs is already reaping the rewards of an improved shot as he tries to get control of his game. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs is already reaping the rewards of an improved shot as he tries to get control of his game. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic hope to bounce back as their West Coast road trip gets tougher facing off against the Phoenix Suns on the road.

Orlando Magic (28-41) at Phoenix Suns (37-32)

Time/TV: 10 p.m./Bally Sports Florida
Line: Suns by 8
Tickets: $88-$5,877 on StubHub
Season Series: Magic 114, Suns 97 in Orlando on Nov. 11; Tonight in Phoenix

PaceOff. Rtg.Def. Rtg.eFG%O.Reb.%TO%FTR

OMD Prediction

When it came to this West Coast road trip, it felt like the Orlando Magic could find success going 2-2. A split would likely preserve their spot in the postseason chase even if it meant the team would have to be in a dead sprint and win their homestand resoundingly to stay in the race. But they had to take care of their business on the road and find the momentum to string together some wins.

Then they hit the roadblock of the San Antonio Spurs — a combination of an outlier shooting game from the Spurs but also some really poor defense. And the Magic find themselves trying to play catch up having dropped one of their few games remaining against teams below them in the standings or teams trending in the opposite direction.

Orlando has always done well to bounce back from their youthful defeats. But this is a Phoenix Suns team decidedly moving in the positive direction, even with Kevin Durant out with an ankle injury. Devin Booker is healthy and starting to cook and this is a group that plays some incredibly strong defense. A road win will be tough but not impossible with the Suns having lost their last three.

66. Prediction. 108. 38. 115

3 Keys To Watch

Defensive trends

The Orlando Magic were flying high defensively for a long time. Their run to becoming a .500 team was built on defensive consistency. The Magic were one of the better defensive teams in the league for a good stretch. Maybe not enough to dominate games completely — and certainly not for 48 minutes consistently — but good enough to give them a chance to win.

That has changed completely though. Especially in the last few weeks.

Since the All-Star Break, the Magic are posting a 116.8 defensive rating to fall to 20th in the league since the break. That is why the Magic are 4-6 (somehow they are relying more on their offense in this time, sitting at 18th at 113.4 points per 100 possessions).

This is why the Magic have lost ground and missed opportunities. They have kind of lost their way defensively.

The Phoenix Suns have gone in the opposite direction. The Suns have rated well defensively all season, but they are at 113.1 points allowed per 100 possessions since the All-Star Break, good for 13th. That is certainly enough to find some indentations and inconsistencies after their big trades. But this is a tough defense still.

The free throw problem

The Orlando Magic have been one of the best teams at getting to the foul line all season. They have floated between second and third in free throw rate for most of the season, hovering around 30 percent (or three free throws for every 10 field goal attempts).

But that is something that has changed recently as they have now dropped to fifth. Orlando has a free throw rate of 28.0 percent since the All-Star Break. That is 10th in the league. That is a big piece of the Magic’s offense — and their main way to counteract their lack of 3-point shooting that has dropped pretty suddenly.

Paolo Banchero has been a big reason for the Magic’s relative free-throw shooting surge. He is shooting 7.5 free throws per game for the season.

That is a number that has been dropping, even as he has rediscovered some offensive rhythm. Since the All-Star Break, he is averaging just 7.1 free throw attempts per game. That is still an impressive number, but a full free throw down from where he was earlier in the season.

Markelle with the push

Markelle Fultz has been looking the most like the player who was the top overall pick than he has in a long time. He is starting to get some notice from national media who would say the same. And it has been really encouraging to see.

Fultz is up to 13.6 points per game and 5.5 assists per game with shooting splits of 50.5/30.8/79.8. Fultz has become a reliable offensive player. And since the All-Star Break (his last 10 games), Fultz is averaging 15.7 points per game and 5.7 assists per game with shooting splits of 51.6/33.3/89.7.

Again, Fultz is just reliable as a scorer for this team, even if he is not a knockdown shooter from deep.

Next. Prospects to watch in the NCAA Tournament. dark

The bigger thing for Fultz though is his ability to control and push the pace. Fultz has to make sure his teammates are with him and pick his spots better to push and look to attack. Fultz’s attention also sometimes seems to wonder. But when he is locked in, the Magic are just so much better and tougher to deal with because of the unpredictability he brings to how he attacks and stresses defenses.

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.