Preview: Streaking Magic stare down top team in NBA with Raptors in town
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
During a hot stretch entering its third week, the Orlando Magic own an impressive comeback win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Jimmy Butler’s debut, a double-digit win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers and a road win over the San Antonio Spurs.
Next up for one of the league’s hottest teams of late is a date with the league-best Toronto Raptors, who visit Orlando on Tuesday.
Since taking an ugly 120-95 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 2, Orlando is 7-2 in its last nine games to get to 9-8 overall and gets a chance to hold a winning record through 18 games for the first time since 2015-16. The Magic are on a three-game winning streak after getting a 131-117 win over the New York Knicks on Sunday less than 24 hours after knocking off the Lakers by a similar score.
Orlando is on its 12th three-game winning streak since the start of the 2013-14 season. Only two of those streaks are more than three games as Orlando is seeking four straight wins for the first time since Nov. 25-Dec. 3, 2015.
Perhaps nobody is rolling of late more than center Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic scored 30 and 36 in the wins over Philadelphia and Los Angeles and followed it up by getting 28 Sunday when Orlando scored 130 points in consecutive games for the first time in team history.
Aaron Gordon also is rolling after getting 20 of his 31 in the first quarter Sunday. In the loss to the Clippers, he scored four points and since then he is averaging 20.3 points and is shooting 55 percent, including 43.6 percent from 3-point range.
Overall, Orlando is averaging 114.2 points in this nine-game surge while shooting 49.6 percent and getting 27.7 assists per game following a 35-assist showing against New York Sunday. During the slow start, Orlando averaged 99.8, shot 41.4 percent while averaging 24,3 assists.
“We’re having fun out there,” Orlando swingman Evan Fournier told reporters. “We play the right way. We play hard. We play together and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We enjoy playing with each other right now, and that’s the biggest thing for me.”
Now the question for a team trying to shake off six straight losing seasons is whether this start is sustainable, especially with the upcoming schedule. After taking on Toronto, Orlando embarks on a six-game road trip with the first four games coming against the Denver Nuggets, Lakers, Golden
State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers.
“Not a lot of us have played on teams that have won a lot and obviously we know what loses because we’ve done a lot of that,” said Vucevic, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week Monday. “We understand that even though it’s early to keep winning and become a winning team, we have to keep doing what we’ve done the past (nine) games. That’s playing well defensively and playing well together and with a sense of purpose.”
Toronto has lost three of four games since its 12-1 start but heads to Orlando off a 122-95 rout of Chicago that came on the heels of an overtime loss in Boston on Friday and a collapse at home in a two-point loss to Detroit on Wednesday.
The Raptors are the first team to reach 13 wins and did it by holding Chicago to 34.9 percent while topping 120 points for the sixth time and shooting 53 percent. During its latest win, Fred VanVleet led Toronto with 19 points after shooting 31.5 percent (12 of 38) in his previous five games.
He really looked like his old self,” Nurse said. “He’s been a shell of himself lately, in all phases. Not getting the ball where he wants to go. Not shooting the 3 at a high level. In my head, he’s a 45-plus shooter and he’s shooting somewhere in the 20s this year.
Toronto achieved its latest win without Kawhi Leonard, who was rested after playing 43 minutes Friday. Leonard has rested three times and missed two games two weeks ago due to an ankle injury but is expected to play Tuesday and likely sit Wednesday in Atlanta.
In three games immediately after he sits out, Leonard is averaging 26 points.
Kyle Lowry exited Saturday’s game with a tweaked ankle but is expected to play after not practicing Monday.
The Raptors also could be getting OG Anunoby and C.J. Miles back for Tuesday. Anunoby sat out Saturday with a right wrist sprain while Miles has missed the last three games with a right adductor strain.