The Orlando Magic wrap up their double-dip in Chicago with their second In-Season Tournament game as they face almost certain elimination with a loss.
NBA In-Season Tournament East Group C
Orlando Magic (6-5, 0-1 -20) at Chicago Bulls (4-8, 0-1 -2)
Time/TV: 8 p.m./Bally Sports Florida
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Line: Bulls by 3/Magic Money Line: +126/Over-Under: 215.5 on FanDuel
Tickets: $28-$394 on StubHub
Season Series: Magic 96, Bulls 94 in Chicago on Nov. 15; Tonight in Chicago; Feb 10 in Orlando; April 7 in Orlando
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Our Prediction Record: 7-4/7-4 ATS
The Orlando Magic won a game that is very much to their liking on Wednesday. The game was slowed down to a crawl. It became about defense and getting stops. And the Magic were able to create stops and turnovers to get some opportunities in transition.
Then again, the second half had all of the problems that define this Magic team. They got too slow and too stagnant offensively. Everything slowed down completely and they lost their rhythm. Orlando has lots of work to do.
The question is can they do it again? Can they beat the Bulls in back-to-back games and now with the team in its In-Season Tournament game? That is the kind of pressure and adjustments the Magic have to prove they can make.
DeMar DeRozan and his 21.2 points per game are expected back in the lineup (he is QUESTIONABLE for personal reasons on the 12:30 p.m. injury report). That may give Chicago a bit of an offensive boost (it certainly cannot be worse than Wednesday’s game). And Jalen Suggs is now QUESTIONABLE with a sore left knee after taking some hard falls.
This one is a test for the Magic, no doubt.
3 Keys To Watch
Paolo’s standout play
A few weeks ago, we were all wringing our hands over Paolo Banchero’s slow offensive start. His scoring was not hitting the marks that we expected and his shooting percentages were in the dumps. Banchero had the makings of a sophomore slump and the Magic seemed to be struggling to get going because Banchero was not being anywhere near assertive.
He continually told us not to worry. And the light bulb switched on.
Since his 30-point game against the Utah Jazz (that included his first game-winner of the season), Banchero is averaging 22.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game in November with 48.6/46.2/71.7 shooting splits. That is quite a sizable leap and the eye test checks too with the only criticism Banchero faces is he is turning the ball over too much.
Banchero has really started to establish a more steady drumbeat for the team. he is super confident, but not in a selfish way. And that is why everyone is still very excited for what Banchero can bring to this team.
The Zach LaVine factor
The trade discussions and rumors involving Zach LaVine have only continued to pick up speed since Wednesday’s game. There are a lot of people who feel like a pair of losses at home to the Orlando Magic (and essentially elimination from the In-Season Tournament) would be the final nail in the coffin for this group and the beginning of a Bulls deconstruction.
Even Magic fans have had some discussions about acquiring LaVine (he is in the first year of a five-year contract that pays him north of $37 million this year, so matching salaries remains a challenge before you get to fit).
This has been a rough season for LaVine. He is averaging 21.7 points per game on 40.7/33.0/87.1 shooting splits. It has been a rough year for him. He scored 19 points on 6-for-16 shooting and 4 for 7 from deep in Wednesday’s game. That included hitting two key 3-pointers in the Bulls’ frenzied comeback.
LaVine is still capable of mounting a one-man comeback (he has done that enough times against the Magic in a Bulls uniform). But he has struggled and clearly seems to have an eye outside Chicago.
The Turnover Issue
The biggest issue for the Orlando Magic — and perhaps one of the bigger factors to watch in this game — is turnovers.
On a year-over-year basis, the Magic are better with turnovers this year, improving from an 18.1 percent turnover rate to 16.2 percent this year. But that 16.2 percent turnover rate is still 28th in the league. Orlando gives away a lot of possessions and that was a highlight of the near-collapse in the fourth quarter Wednesday night.
The Magic were for a while doing a decent job preventing points off turnovers. They are now 17th in the league giving up 17.8 points off turnovers per game this year. In their last five games, the Magic 22nd giving up 19.2 points off turnovers per game.
Orlando has to reduce its turnovers and Chicago is a tough team to do that against, considering the Bulls are really good at forcing turnovers, ranking third in the league in opponent turnover rate (the Magic are first in that category).
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