Our Record: 20-10/15-15 ATS
How much should we put into the Orlando Magic's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday?
On one hand, the Sixers were undermanned without Joel Embiid and still thrashed the team on the interior, taking away one of the big strengths for this team.
On the other, though, the game came on the second night of a back-to-back with a tough travel from Washington D.C. to Orlando. Coach Jamahl Mosley said one way the team has grown in these back-to-backs is they do not accept this kind of an excuse.
Still, there are no back-to-backs in the Playoffs. So how much should we put into those games? Should we believe the Orlando Magic's big wins over the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards where the team defended fairly well?
The game against the Knicks -- another team experiencing some ups and downs at the moment -- is a big one then. Orlando is playing against another quality opponent and its last game before a long West Coast road trip. The magic have to start banking some wins and they have to find a way to grind pars.
The Knicks are 5-5 in their last 10 games and struggling to find some traction with their offense carrying its water.
3 Keys to Watch
Low volume, high percentage
When it comes to the Orlando Magic, the biggest thing everyone wrings their hands over is the team's shooting. And Orlando's shooting has been particularly bad in December.
The Magic are not a high-volume 3-point shooting team and is now 28th in the league shooting 33.7 percent from three. In December, that has dropped to 31.0 percent from deep.
At least Orlando does not take a ton of three-pointers. That is simply not the team's game. But the offense still craters without the benefit of that 3-point shooting.
The Magic need to space the floor and need to make a few early ones to gain some confidence. It just feels like the team is pressing when the misses pile up.
The New York Knicks are actually a great example of what the Orlando Magic are trying to be. In December, New York is shooting only 31.7 3-point attempts per game but they make 38.4 percent of those attempts. For the season, they average 34.4 attempts at 37.8 percent overall.
The lesson should be that teams can be successful offensively without shooting a high-volume of threes. The Knicks are ninth in the league in offensive rating at 117.5 points per 100 possessions. But you have to make those threes. That is part of the struggle for this team.
Battle for the Glass
The New York Knicks are likely without Mitchell Robinson for the rest of the year after left ankle surgery. That is a big loss for the Knicks on the glass because they are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league -- and Robinson averages 5.3 offensive rebounds per game.
The Knicks rank second in the league in offensive rebound rate at 33.2 percent (one of every three rebound opportunity). But since Robinson left the lineup with an injury on Dec. 8, the Knicks have an offensive rebound rate of just 30.2 percent.
There is a chance to attack the offensive glass. This is an area the Magic were really strong during their win streak. But since the end of the nine-game win streak, Orlando's offensive rebound rate has dropped to 27.6 percent. The team's season average is 30.1 percent.
This is a big area where things have slipped for the Magic. Orlando needs to get second-chance points to make up possessions and points the team might lose from not hitting enough threes.
This game could well be decided on the glass.
It is only Dec. 29 and we are at Game 31 of the season. It is probably still way too early to check the standings. And with 52 games remaining, the Orlando Magic still have to focus more on themselves than what anyone else is doing.
As Magic fans surely remember, the Magic were 19-13 on Jan. 1, 2016 and sitting in fourth place in the East before going 2-12 in January and falling completely out of the playoff picture. What happened at the trade deadline that year does not need to be mentioned further.
But we are near a point where the playoff races have established themselves. The Orlando Magic and New York Knicks are going to be two teams fighting each other throughout the rest of the season. And this game is already a six-pointer in the standings.
As things stand right now, the Orlando Magic at 18-12 are a half game behind the Miami Heat (19-12) for fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Orlando Magic lead the Cleveland Cavaliers (18-13) by a half-game for fifth and they lead the seventh place New York Knicks by one game (17-13) to avoid the Play-In Tournament.
It is too early to call Friday's game a must-win for either team because of the standings. But there is no denying the game could have consequence for tiebreakers moving forward.
The reality is the Heat, Magic, Cavaliers and Knicks are going to be fighting for those four spots and how to order themselves for the entire season. And the Indiana Pacers are not too far behind them to make the race for 4-8 to be big.
At this point, at least it feels like it would be hard for the Magic to fall below eight and face a single elimination game in the first Play-In Tournament game. But there is still a long way to go.