Our Prediction: 30-18/25-23 ATS
Both the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves are having landmark 35th anniversary seasons. The Magic celebrated Paolo Banchero's selection as an NBA All-Star as they returned to the national stage. The Timberwolves, too, are celebrating a breakthrough season for their young team, with Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns getting named reserves. Rudy Gobert had a good case to be an All-Star, too.
The Timberwolves are having one of those special seasons. After taking last year to grow and figure things out, the team has coalesced around its defensive identity. And while the Timberwolves do not play at a breakneck speed, they can score points in bunches. They are a difficult team to handle.
The Magic learned that firsthand when they faced the Timberwolves back in early January. The team was undermanned that night with injuries, but they were fighting uphill anyway. The Wolves were defensive juggernauts and locked out the paint to deliver an easy win. The Wolves are the real deal, even if they have much to prove when the playoffs come around.
Right now, Minnesota is playing well, winning four of their last five with oddly a loss to the San Antonio Spurs. The Magic and the Wolves should be fully healthy -- Gary Harris is PROBABLE to play.
3 Keys to Watch
Paolo Banchero's Tear
So how did Paolo Banchero become an All-Star? There are a few reasons.
Despite some (perhaps) poor advanced stats, his raw counting numbers are downright impressive -- 23.0 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and 5.0 assists per game. The Magic's record and the team's spot in the playoff chase boosted him, too.
Even though the Magic have had a downturn in the last two months, Banchero has stepped up significantly to keep the team afloat through the injuries. In his last 25 games, Banchero has averaged 25.2 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and 5.2 assists per game.
He has had to do everything for the Magic. The coaches know he is someone they must account for and pay much attention to. And even with that attention, he is scoring and producing at All-Star levels. Banchero earned his place and seems ready to continue growing and expanding his game.
Locking Down the Paint
The big key to this game will be how the Orlando Magic attack and defend the paint. There is a big mountain to climb inside, with Rudy Gobert manning the interior.
The Timberwolves have the top defense in the league. They can thank Gobert's Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season for a lot of that.
Minnesota gives up only 45.6 points in the paint per game, third-fewest in the league. Opponents shoot only 51.6 percent at the rim against Gobert, according to data from Second Spectrum.
The Magic are a team that has to get downhill to the paint. They average 52.3 points in the paint per game (eighth in the league). But some of their worst games on the interior came against great shot blockers.
They scored only 34 points in the paint against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Jarrett Allen and then only 38 in the loss to the Timberwolves last month.
This game will be won or lost on how the Magic are able to attack the interior.
Franz Wagner's turn to make the All-Star team is coming soon. He missed too many games and had too slow of a shooting start to get consideration -- and the Magic dropping to eighth makes it hard to justify two All-Stars.
Do not sleep on Wagner, though. He has been ramping up his game since returning from the ankle injury that kept him out for several weeks.
In his last six games, Wagner has averaged 17.7 points per game and 4.8 assists per game. His 3-point shooting has come around, too. He is making 42.9 percent of his threes -- more in line with his career averages than his sub-30 start to the season.
Wagner is still working his way back to some sort of rhythm after missing the time with the injury. But he is getting closer and closer as his scoring starts to tick up again.