Our Record: 28-17/23-22 ATS
The Orlando Magic are fighting to stay above water right now. The team has not been at .500 since it was 4-4 returning from a West Coast road trip (with Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter now injured). The team has never been below .500 this season.
That is a sense of pride for this team. And also, now, a symbol of how much the team has fallen off, considering they were at one point nine games above .500 -- both at 14-5 and 16-7. The Magic are a .500 team trying to stay above water.
Friday's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies was disappointing for the seeming opportunity, after several days of rest, to get back on track and build some confidence and composure after several days of res. It was a disheartening loss that has to galvanize the team, or this thing could break apart -- and the trade deadline is approaching at the end of this five-game road trip.
They are taking on a star-studded Phoenix Suns team that does know a lot more about itself than when the team first faced it at the end of December. Devin Booker is on a scoring tear, and Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. The only thing slowing the team down is a shaky defense and the potential that Bradley Beal (nasal fracture) and Jusuf Nurkic (left thumb sprain) are questionable for the game.
Orlando's depth and interior play might be its biggest strength in this game. And the Magic have to show some life before hitting the road.
3 Keys to Watch
Battle for the Paint
The Orlando Magic should still have a key mantra for their offensive success -- win the paint, win the game.
Orlando's success early in the season was built on the team's ability to get to and defend the paint. It is a central part of the team's potential offensively. It is how they make up for their lack of 3-point shooting.
The Magic are eighth in the league in points in the paint per game at 52.4 per game. That is a strong showing and a good number. The Magic are 14-5 when they score more than 55 points in the paint in a game. That should signify how important it is to get downhill to the paint.
But, the Magic have averaged only 43.4 points in the paint per game in January -- 28th in the league! The Magic have scored 50 points in the paint only three times in the month. This is why the Magic's struggling offense has dropped to 110.3 points per 100 possessions.
If Orlando wants to score, the team has to get back to scoring in the paint. And that was a factor in the first meeting when the Orlando Magic outscored the Phoenix Suns 58-56. That at least gave the Magic a chance to win.
Devin Booker's surge
We are seeing a scoring surge in the NBA this week. It has been wild, with Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic topping 70 points. Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns hit 60 earlier in the week too.
Booker had 62 points in the Phoenix Suns' loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday. That followed a 46-point effort in a blowout win over the Dallas Mavericks. He scored 52 points on Jan. 19 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Everyone knew this already. Booker is one of the best scorers in the league. And he was not going to let that scoring surge work without him.
Booker scored 21 points on 7-for-17 in the meeting in December. With Jalen Suggs not listed on the injury report, the Magic will at least have their best defender to chase him around and make him work.
Franz Wagner's return was meant to give the Orlando Magic a big boost. He is still finding his way and still finding his aggression. But Wagner has been steady in his three games since returning from the ankle injury.
He scored 19, 17 and 18 points in his three games back. Wagner has shot 18 for 39 (46.2 percent) and, more encouragingly, 8 for 18 (44.4 percent) from beyond the arc. That is a good step for Wagner, even if it is still a baby step for the Magic's young forward.
Orlando is going to need more. The Magic are ramping up their rotation and playing groups since everyone returned from injury. Orlando needs to see those players ramp up quicker, with the team slipping down the standings and struggling to embrace their identity.