Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns (December 31, 2023): 3 Things To Watch, Odds and Prediction

The Orlando Magic open up a four-game West Coast road trip going up against a fully healthy Phoenix Suns team with the trio of stars in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. The Magic may be getting their own bit of good injury news though with Markelle Fultz's potential for a return.

Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic will need a strong bench showing for the Orlando Magic to topple the star-heavy Phoenix Suns.
Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic will need a strong bench showing for the Orlando Magic to topple the star-heavy Phoenix Suns. / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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19-12. 38. Bally Sports Florida/Arizona's Family Sports. Dec. 31, 2023. Magic Suns Matchup 12.31.23. 16-15. Suns by 5.5 (O/U 229.5). 8P. 66

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Tickets:
$36-$72,388 on StubHub
Season Series:
Tonight in Phoenix; Jan. 28 in Orlando

Pace

Off. Rtg.

Def. Rtg.

eFG%

O.Reb.%

TO%

FTR

Orlando

100.1

113.0

110.4

53.1

30.3

14.8

31.7

Phoenix

98.2

116.5

115.6

54.7

32.2

15.2

31.0

OMD Prediction

Our Record: 21-10/16-15 ATS

The Orlando Magic knew they needed a win over the New York Knicks on Friday before embarking on this West Coast road trip. They knew they needed to get themselves back on the right foot and play some decent defense -- the Magic gave up a stellar 103.8 defensive rating. For an evening, everything felt right in the world.

Of course, the challenge is to do it again. And now to do it pretty far from home against another potentially elite team that seems to be getting its footing -- and getting healthy -- again.

This is the challenge of the NBA calendar of course. It is the ability to come back night-in and night-out and win all over again.

The Phoenix Suns are working their way through that challenge too. They got Kevin Durant and Devin Booker playing together and finally got Bradley Beal back from injury too. They took it to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday in a 133-119 victory.

Even when the Suns are struggling on defense, they have enough firepower to make up for it. And the Magic will have to be on their marks to defend all the offensive weapons the Suns have at their disposal.

The good news then might be that the Magic are seemingly inching closer to some health. Orlando listed Markelle Fultz (left knee tendinitis), Wendell Carter (right knee tendinitis), Gary Harris (right calf strain) and Jonathan Isaac (right hamstring strain) as QUESTIONABLE. That does not mean all of them will play, but it is a step in the right direction.

Magic Suns Prediction 12.31.23. 112. 66. Prediction. 108. 38

3 Keys To Watch

Free Throw Success/Failures

The Orlando Magic are constantly playing catch-up on offense. The team knows it is not going to hit threes to keep up with the elite offenses in the league and so they have to find other ways to make up that difference.

They do that by attacking the paint relentlessly. They win the battle in the paint. They do that by attacking the offensive glass and stealing extra possessions and extra shots at the rim.

They do that too by getting to the foul line.

The Magic are first in the league in free throw rate and getting to the foul line is essential to the team's ultimate success. They have to get to the foul line. Thirty is almost a good reference number.

So far this year, the Magic are 10-3 when they get 30 or more free throw attempts in a game. They are 10-5 when they have a free throw rate of 30 percent or better. A heavy free throw game is usually a good sign the Magic will win.

Of course, they have to battle the Suns on the other end. Phoenix is second in the league in free throw rate. And the Magic are 26th in the league giving up a 28.3 percent free throw rate.

The key to this game is to get to the foul line and keep the Suns off the foul line.

The Big Three back in action

Of course, the Phoenix Suns are celebrating that they finally have Bradley Beal back in the lineup and will finally get to see the three All-Star players they put together on the court together.

Beal returned from an ankle injury Friday to score six points and dished out seven assists. That was a solid return. Devin Booker scored 35 points and also had seven assists for the Suns. He is still working his way back.

In 44 minutes together, the Suns' star trio has a 131.2 offensive rating and 116.9 defensive rating. The Suns knew they would be able to outscore a lot of teams with this group. And that is going to be a big challenge for the Magic to try to be locked in defensively.

It is never easy facing the firepower of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and now Bradley Beal. But the Suns' lack of depth could keep the game close. But these minutes will be the big key for this team.

Magic's depth and injuries

The Orlando Magic's bench has been one of the team's biggest strengths this year. They have gotten a lot of scoring from Cole Anthony and Moe Wagner specifically. But that bench scoring has fallen off a bit, specifically since Joe Ingles left the lineup with his ankle injury.

Orlando is averaging 43.1 points per game off the bench. That is the third-most in the league. But since Ingles' injury on Dec. 15, the team is averaging just 34.0 points per game off the bench. That is what happens when injury depletes depth.

But Anthony and Wagner have struggled especially. And this is one of the big reasons the Magic's offense has struggled in the last few weeks. Orlando has lost this incredible advantage.

The good news of the potential -- even if small -- of getting some reinforcements in Markelle Fultz, Wendell Carter and even Jonathan Isaac helps. The team just needs to get a little bit healthier so they can compete with elite talents and teams again.

Next. Carter slow return 12.29.23. Wendell Carter's return has been slow. dark

If there is more good news then, the Suns are 26th in the league in bench scoring at 29.5 points per game. They struggle to get much from outside of their starters with as high-powered as they have been with their starting group.