Orlando Magic at Charlotte Hornets game preview


Orlando had been playing such good basketball.

The Magic arrived home to play Boston on Wednesday after a five-game road trip that ended with three straight wins, including a 95-83 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

Against Boston, Orlando’s chances looked promising as the Magic took a one-point lead into halftime.

Twenty-four minutes later, the Celtics, without their best player Isaiah Thomas, had a 30-point victory and Orlando’s winning streak was over in a hurry.

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"Credit Boston for a great second half," Magic coach Frank Vogel said. "They had three pit bulls on the perimeter in Avery (Bradley), (Marcus) Smart, and (Jae) Crowder, and those guys really got into us and controlled the game."

Yes, it’s a dog-eat-dog world in the NBA and the Magic are licking their chops to get back on the winning track.

The Magic (10-13) head back on the road on Friday to face the Hornets in Charlotte. This will be the first time the two Eastern Conference teams have met this season.

The Hornets (13-9) have won two in a row and five of seven, and are coming off an impressive 87-77 home win against the Detroit Pistons.

The Hornets’ defense dogged the Pistons all over the court and held Detroit to 38.2 percent from the field — and that included Pistons center Andre Drummond going 11 of 14. Bottom line, Charlotte played great defense, took care of the ball and the Hornets made shots when it counted late.

"Man, it was rough," said guard Kemba Walker, who led Charlotte with 25 points, 14 of them in the fourth quarter. "Tough night shooting the basketball for a lot of us. The shots just weren’t falling for both teams. Both teams played hard. Defensively, I thought both teams were great, but down the stretch we were able to make some big plays and get a huge burst in the fourth quarter."

Charlotte welcomed back Marvin Williams after the forward missed six games because of hyperextended left knee. He played 26 minutes, scored 12 and recorded five boards.

"It felt good. I got a lot of energy," Williams told reporters. "I felt like I haven’t played in a long time, but once I got back out there, I feel like I had a pretty good rhythm; my conditioning felt fine."

While the Hornets will have the services of Williams on Friday, the Magic were still waiting on Thursday to see if center Nikola Vucevic will be available.

Vucevic, who has recorded a double-double in 10 of the last 12 games, is questionable with an eye injury.

Without Vucevic coming off the bench, Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo will have to pick up the load. And after the loss to the Celtics, Biyombo had some choice words.

"We can sit here and talk about this and that, but we didn’t play the way that we’ve been playing. We started holding onto the ball longer," the first-year Magic player said. "I don’t think ‘selfish’ would be the right way to put it, but we didn’t trust the next guy. If you play like that, you are going to lose."

Ibaka also is in his first year with Orlando. His game has thrived since leaving the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.

He is averaging 14.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. It’s no coincidence that as Ibaka began settling in with his new teammates, the Magic started playing better and producing more wins.

"There’s no question he’s an elite big man," Vogel said. "He’s one of the best two-way big men in the game. There’s no other way to put it with the way that he shoots the ball from the perimeter, he’s scoring in the post and he’s really trusting the pass. And he’s a force on the defensive end."

Orlando is allowing only 98.8 points per game, good for fifth in the league. Charlotte certainly will test that defense on Friday. The Hornets come into the game ranked fourth in rebounds at 45.9 game and fifth in assists at 23.6 per game.

Nicolas Batum has been a nice sidekick to Walker. The nine-year veteran is in his second year with the Hornets and has blossomed into a reliable all-around threat.

He is averaging 13.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists in 21 games this season.

Hornets guard Marco Belinelli also has been playing well of late, averaging 14.7 points in the last three games.