Preview: Magic hope to discover more energy with visit to Thunder
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 7:30 p.m.
OKLAHOMA CITY — In a crowded Western Conference, outside of the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets at the top of the standings, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in a precarious position.
The Thunder are just two games out of third place in the conference but are just a game-and-a-half removed from being out of the playoffs entirely.
Monday, Oklahoma City returns home for its one game at Chesapeake Energy Arena during a seven-game stretch to take on the Orlando Magic.
The game starts a relatively soft spot in the schedule for the Thunder, who play just three teams that are currently in playoff position over the next 10 games.
The stretch could go a long way toward determining Oklahoma City’s playoff position — or if it makes the playoffs at all.
But a soft schedule hasn’t exactly translated to wins for the Thunder this season.
While Oklahoma City’s four opponents this week — Orlando, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers — have a combined winning percentage of just .367, the Thunder are 1-6 against that group so far.
The Thunder got a scare in Saturday night’s loss at Golden State when the Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia fell on Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook late in the third quarter of the Thunder’s loss.
Westbrook appeared to have ice on his knee in the closing moments of the game, though Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said Westbrook, as far as he knew, was “fine.”
Westbrook said Pachulia’s fall was intentional.
“Nobody touched him, he fell over my leg, tried to hurt me,” Westbrook said. “But hey, that’s how it goes.”
Orlando enters the game having lost its last five games.
The Magic won the previous meeting between the teams, 128-101 on Nov. 29 in Orlando. Aaron Gordon scored 40 points and the Magic shot 59.2 percent from the field.
Gordon is two games into his return from a hip injury that sidelined him for nine games and forced him to miss a chance to compete in the dunk contest during All-Star weekend.
After scoring just nine points in his return to the lineup Tuesday against the Knicks, Gordon looked much better Saturday in Philadelphia against the 76ers, scoring 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including 4 of 8 from behind the 3-point line.
But still, the Magic couldn’t pull off a win for the first time since Feb. 8, falling to the 76ers 116-105.
“With this team, especially, we can’t lack energy. If we’re lacking energy, we’re digging our own grave,” Gordon said. “So every night we’ve got to at least match energy or come out with more energy through 48 minutes if we’re going to get a win. That’s pretty much the only way we’re going to win: just come out with an energy that we haven’t seen in awhile.”
Orlando will be without power forward Marreese Speights for the third consecutive game since the All-Star break. Team officials said Speights was attending to a personal matter, and he’s expected to rejoin the team for Wednesday’s home game against Toronto.