Our Record: 25-12/20-17 ATS
The Orlando Magic's upcoming four-game road trip is a big one for the team.
The competition is tough -- the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. But the Magic must pick up wins. The Eastern Conference race is tight and, especially in the games against the Heat and the Knicks, tiebreakers are going to be crucial.
As things stand, the Orlando Magic are tied with the Miami Heat for seventh in the Eastern Conference standings and one game back of the Indiana Pacers for fourth. That is how tight the standings are. And we are going to have to track the tiebreakers for the end of the season.
With all the injuries both the Magic and Heat are facing, they have to scratch out wins where they can. Orlando hoped to use its two days off to get a little healthier -- and get the illness that has worked its way through the team out of their system -- and to get back to their defensive principles.
Orlando may have an injury advantage in this one. Joe Ingles and Cole Anthony are no longer on the injury report and should be back in action for the Magic. Jimmy Butler is doubtful and Caleb Martin and Tyler Herro are each questionable.
Miami beat Orlando without Butler last month but that is a lot to overcome for a rested Orlando team.
3 Keys to Watch
In big games -- or games that feel big in the standings or for rivalry reasons -- you have to look to the stars to carry the team. That has been what the Orlando Magic are doing through all the injuries this team is facing. Banchero has had to step up in a major way.
Since Franz Wagner's injury -- including the game he got hurt against the Sacramento Kings -- Paolo Banchero is averaging 32.0 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game and 5.8 assists per game while shooting a solid 43.3 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from deep.
Banchero has been on a tear. And, to be sure, the Minnesota Timberwolves' success in Tuesday's game came from slowing Banchero down. He scored only 18 points on 8-for-22 shooting. A lot of those points came late in the game when it was already decided.
Banchero said he was also feeling the effects of the illness going through the team to help slow him down.
Banchero will need another big game against the Heat. In the first matchup with Miami a month ago, Banchero scored only 10 points on 2-for-12 shooting. That was a big absence in that game -- an uphill climb throughout with the Heat going on a 17-0 run in the second quarter to put a vice grip on the game. With all the absences, the Magic cannot afford another poor game from Banchero.
Next Man Up
The Miami Heat are the model franchise for the league in a lot of ways. They have a culture that seems to get the most out of every player throughout the roster and their scouting department is fantastic at finding players who just fit the roster.
The Heat are dealing with a lot of injuries entering this game. Jimmy Butler is doubtful. Caleb Martin and Tyler Herro are questionable. Kyle Lowry is also doubtful.
They still have Bam Adebayo. So no one should be sleeping on this Heat team. And everyone should learn their lesson with this team. Someone surprising is going to step up and make you pay for overlooking them.
In the Orlando Magic's loss to the Miami Heat last month, Haywood Highsmith made four of nine 3-pointers on his way to 15 points. Those threes -- the Magic very much left him open as a now 36.4 percent shooter, it was much worse back then -- keyed the 17-0 run that powered the Heat to a win.
Highsmith followed that up with 19 points in the loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday. He hit five of seven 3-pointers.
Everyone should still be on alert. The Heat find ways to keep contributing. Do not sleep on them.
Joe Ingles Returns
The Orlando Magic are going to be very happy to see one player return to the rotation after an extended absence. After missing the past 13 games, Joe Ingles is expected to return to the lineup. And that is very needed.
He is averaging only 4.9 points per game and 3.4 assists per game. He is shooting 40.7 percent from beyond the arc. That is the biggest thing the team needs from him.
Orlando has a team-best 119.4 offensive rating when Ingles is on the floor. He is a facilitator and organizer who just makes everything easier for everyone.
Take Cole Anthony, for instance.
Anthony has averaged only 11.4 points per game and shooting 40.2 percent from the floor since Ingles' injury. Anthony will benefit most from having Ingles out there to get him off the ball a bit more.
The Magic just need some healthy bodies. They have been running a skeleton crew. And getting Ingles back even for a little bit is going to boost this offense especially. The Magic will be happy to have him back.