Opponent: Orlando Magic
Starting Lineup: Markelle Fultz - Evan Fournier - Aaron Gordon – Jonathan Isaac - Khem Birch
Second Unit: D.J. Augustin - Michael Carter-Williams - Terrance Ross - Al-Farouq Aminu – Mo Bamba
Leading Scorer: Fournier (17.1 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Isaac (7.1 RPG)
Leading Assists: Augustin (4.4 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Scoring on their defense
The Magic have one of the best defense in the NBA, and it is led by their length on the wings. Gordon and Isaac serve as a 3/4 combo that is long, energetic, smart and interchangeable. It’s tough to get much offense going when either of them are on the ball. Fultz is emerging as a defensive menace at the point of attack as well. Center Nikola Vucevic is out with an ankle injury, but Birch and Bamba both have more defensive upside than him, but less experience and savviness. There’s a reason this team is fourth in scoring defense.
Biggest Advantage: Scoring
The Magic may be as strong as it gets on defense, but it is the exact opposite on offense. With Vucevic healthy, this team was already one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA (actually, they are dead last in scoring offense). Now? They are especially horrible. Gordon, who has gotten better offensively each year, has taken a step back. Isaac is still raw. And Fultz is an extreme negative on offense, outside of transition. They will be led by Fournier and Ross. That’s not the best duo to put up a bunch of points.
The X-Factor: Birch/Bamba
Following his all star campaign, Vucevic has been the center of the Magic’s offense. The team has also mixed in some small ball lineups with Isaac at center. This means minutes for Bamba, and especially Birch, have been tough to come by. Well, here is their chance. This will be the first of many upcoming games for this duo to prove themselves. They haven’t been good this year thus far, but they may be able to prove themselves with extra playing time. Only time will tell.
The Magic are one of the best defensive teams in the league. They are also one of the worst offensive teams in the league. It’s as simple as that when scouting this team. Their length defensively, between Fultz, Gordon and Isaac, is going to give the Indiana Pacers problems. But will it be enough to overcome their offensive shortcomings? Especially without Vucevic? It will be curious to see how the team operates without their offensive focal point. Expect to see more Gordon playmaking and extended minutes from notable Pacers killer Ross off the bench.