Our Record: 23-11/18-16 ATS
Injuries are the story for the Orlando Magic. There is no getting around it and no denying it.
The Magic took the rare step of announcing Franz Wagner's MRI confirmed an ankle sprain and his return will depend on how he responds to treatment. There is no timetable for a return of course.
The important thing is that Wagner will miss his first game of the season and just his sixth game in three seasons. And Wagner could be out for a while. But time will tell. He is incredibly resilient as a player.
Wagner is not alone out with injury for this game. Markelle Fultz (left knee tendinitis), Gary Harris (right calf strain), Jonathan Isaac (right hamstring strain) and Joe Ingles (left ankle sprain) all remain out. Wendell Carter is now listed as QUESTIONABLE with right knee tendinitis.
At least Cole Anthony is not on the injured list after missing Wednesday's game with a right quad contusion. But Orlando is going to be holding the ship together. once again.
And they are going to have to do it against a Denver Nuggets team that has won eight of their last nine and 11 of their last 13 and are coming off an 18-point comeback victory on a Nikola Jokic buzzer-beater Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco.
This feels like the wrong team to be nursing a bunch of injuries against. But we do know the Magic will fight and with the Nuggets on a back to back, expect the Magic to be competitive despite being undermanned.
3 Keys To Watch
Paolo Banchero, it's your show
Orlando Magic fans do not need to be told how good Paolo Banchero has been this season. They have seen every play and every moment from the Magic forward and how he has become a steady drumbeat. He is undoubtedly an All-Star -- do not forget to vote today it is a 3-for-1 vote day! -- and should get the nod from the coaches to be a reserve.
Banchero is averaging 22.4 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 4.7 assists per game (ignore the 3.3 turnovers per game behind the curtain). Since Dec. 1, Banchero is averaging 26.3 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game and 4.9 assists per game.
That stretch includes three 30-point games. And he had a career-high 43 points, including scoring 18 straight points in the fourth quarter and overtime, in Wednesday's loss to the Sacramento Kings. It was superstar stuff.
The Magic are going to need another herculean effort from Paolo Banchero for however long Franz Wagner is going to be out. And against an elite team like the Denver Nuggets, they need their superstar to step up.
The Denver Nuggets were dead in the water in the second half, trailing by 18 points on the road to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday. The Orlando Magic were probably groaning that the Denver Nuggets' stars were going to be a bit better rested before they returned home to the waiting Magic in Denver.
Then the Nuggets made their comeback. And then Nikola Jokic did this:
This was simply an unreal comeback and an unreal shot from an unreal player. Jokic has his MVPs and his title and he continues to put up incredible numbers. Jokic is averaging 26.0 points per game, 12.2 rebounds per game and 9.1 assists per game. He is just incredibly difficult to stop.
And right now, he is playing about as perfect as you can.
Jokic has made 39 of his past 44 shots over his last four games while averaging 23.0 points per game, 11.0 rebounds per game and 8.3 assists per game. The Nuggets, now with Aaron Gordon back and Jamal Murray playing regularly again, are starting to hit their stride.
Back to the Paint
The Orlando Magic's double-overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday was weird. The team hit better than 50 percent of its 3-pointers and a franchise-record 25 3-pointers in the game. That is what kept the team in the game because the Magic had their fewest points in the paint of the season with just 24.
To be sure, that is not a winning formula for Orlando. The Magic have to get to the paint and be a dominant paint team to win in the league.
They average 55.0 points in the paint per game, third-most in the league. Even if the team does not have Franz Wagner, the Magic should be better at getting downhill and getting to the basket.
Orlando knows it cannot rely on its three-point shooting again to save the team. The Magic have to be better from the outside and hope that back-to-back solid shooting games hints at a hot streak coming. But the team still has to know that winning the paint is the team's identity.